What Our Children Teach Me About Prayer

Earlier this week, I shared the link to a new article I wrote for InTouch Magazine about Praying with Penny. But it’s a story that never ends, because all of our kids are constantly teaching me more about how to pray.

Recently, there was the night when we were reading The Berenstein Bears and Too Much Junk Food. After we finished, I asked Penny and William if they wanted me to pray about anything in particular. At this point, Penny usually offers a number of requests. William usually turns away and shakes his head. But that night, I asked if they needed help with anything. William pointed to the book with a shy look on his face. “I need God’s help with this.” And so we prayed that God would help him to want healthy food and only eat junk food a little bit.

Then I asked Penny a few nights ago, “Do you ever pray at school?”

She gave me one of those looks that implies I should know better than to ask a question with such an obvious answer. “Yeah, Mom.”

“When?”

“In art and in gym.”

“Why do you pray then?”

“So God will be with me. I need help controlling my hands. And God helps me.”

In both cases, what struck me was the simplicity of it. William likes junk food. He shouldn’t eat a lot of it. But he wants to anyway. And so he needs God’s help. Penny knows she shouldn’t poke and push in gym class or pick up all the little beads and interesting objects in the art room, but controlling those impulses is hard. So she prays about it. I wish I could remember, and trust, that prayer really is that simple.

And then there’s Marilee, who is just starting to join my little crew of theologians.

I asked her at dinnertime a few nights back, “Marilee, do you know what we are doing when we pray?”

Her face lit up. She clasped her hands together and said, “Thank you for our beautiful day!”

I know she was just offering back to me what she has heard, and yet it also came as a precious little gem of insight. Not just that when we pray we are saying thank you, but a reminder that prayer offers us a way to connect to the one who deserves our thanksgiving. No–it’s more than that. It’s that the feeling of gratitude for things we know we have not given ourselves–the dogwood tree in bloom, the giggles of my little girl, the wonder of finding the right words to put on paper, the moment of connection and hope in friendships–it’s that the feeling of gratitude doesn’t go out into a void but actually lands somewhere, with someone. There is one to whom we ought to give thanks, but perhaps even more so, there is one who will receive our thanks.

I sometimes wish I had an orderly prayer life, as I did before I had children. But I’m also grateful for the disruptions my children have offered. Because it is in those disruptions that they continue to teach me how to pray.

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About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).

Comments

  1. Thank you for this: I love this post and your children’s prayers. Although I haven’t yet read Anne Lamott’s book “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers,” that’s what I thought of when I read your post. (Judgey me of course thinks, “Anne, you should’ve added a fourth one: Sorry”… but that’s beside the point!)

    These past 2 weeks we had my parents visiting, and my son was quite fascinated by how, all of a sudden, a whole bunch of people were saying grace at different mealtimes and the different ways they prayed. I don’t know if he really understands cognitively what prayer means, but sometimes he would look around the table with a huge smile and say “Happy,” which seemed to be a prayer in itself. Those moments tended to coincide when we were having potatoes or cake, though, so maybe that was the connection! :-)

  2. The insight your kids show is impressive as well as heartwarming, AJ. I think it’s also a good indication of the fantastic parents they have.
    Blessings,
    Tim

  3. Your son’s word sounds just like a prayer to me, Jeannie. A single word to God that sums up how I’m feeling would be great sometimes. But I blather. Good thing the Holy Spirit intercedes for me whether I’m at a loss for words or experiencing a bad case of logorrhea!

  4. Your children’s purity and insightful prayers inspire me..God bless them and I’m reminded in a powerful way that God wants the simple part of our hearts, Penny is particulary inspiring thanks for sharing her


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