A helpful way to teach your children The Lord's Prayer
It's pure joy to welcome my friend, Amy Julia Becker- a beautiful writer with a beautiful heart- to the blog today. Amy Julia's newly released book, Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most, tells stories based upon the questions and statements Amy Julia’s children have made about the things that make life good (such as love, kindness, beauty, laughter, and friendship), the things that make life hard (such as death, failure, and tragedy), and what we believe (such as prayer, God, and miracles). Moving from humorous exchanges to profound questions to heart-wrenching moments, Amy Julia encourages parents to ask themselves―and to talk with their children―about what matters most. It's a great Mother's Day gift!
By Amy Julia Becker
Years ago, when our daughter Penny was four, I decided to teach her the Lord’s Prayer. My desire arose mostly out of guilt. One day Penny recited the Pledge of Allegiance, which made me realize she could memorize a set of unfamiliar big words and recite them back, and I figured we should try to do the same with prayer.
Meanwhile, my own prayer life was a bit of a shambles. I was pregnant with child number three, and we were trying to help our son William transition out of his crib and into a bed. Sleep was in short supply, my back ached, and outside the winter seemed endless, with so much snow on the ground we couldn’t safely go out and play. In the past, I had often started my day with prayer. But that deliberate prayer time had become a distant memory.
Now I struggled to even know what to pray in a short plea to the heavens. Should I pray for patience yet again? I felt as though I had exhausted that prayer with repetition, but patience was still in short supply. Should I pray for William to sleep through the night? Again, I offered the request up to God every time I came to his bedside, and yet the calls for mommy kept coming. Prayer seemed like an exercise in futility, proof either of God’s neglect or absence.
And yet a nagging desire to be a dutiful Christian mom led me to try to teach Penny the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father,” I instructed. As soon as she repeated the words, I said, “That means God, not dad. Because God is like a good father, so God is kind of like your dad but even better.” Each line got its own belabored and elaborate explanation. Each line brought up for me its own theological questions. Penny patiently responded until we got to the part about forgiveness. I don’t know if it was boredom or confusion or something else that led her to say, “All done, Mom.” And we were.
I soon abandoned the attempt, but a few years later we started to pray as a family during our sporadic family “devotions.” We based our prayer on the model I’d encountered in Parenting the Wholehearted Child—"wow, sorry, thanks, and please" - a child’s version of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I was heartened every week by our children’s earnestness: “Sorry God for hitting my sister.” “Thank you God for loving me.” “I need for you to be with Grandpa because he is sick.” “I need you to help me control my hands in school.”
Our kids learned that prayer is an opportunity to state our feelings, needs, and gratitude. They learned that God is always available, no matter how simple our words, no matter where we are.
After years of practicing this informal conversation with God, one morning I asked, “Would you all like to memorize something from the Bible together?” Penny and William both nodded with excitement in their eyes. Marilee wasn’t so sure. And somehow, over the course of just a few days, they learned the Lord’s Prayer. We recited it in the car on the way to school, at the dinner table, in the morning when they woke me up. We talked through different lines that seemed confusing—What’s hallowed? What are trespasses? The neighbors’ “no trespassing” sign came in handy all of a sudden, as did the Newboys’ “It is You,” which involves the idea of God’s holiness.
Finally, one morning, I said, “Do you all know that the Lord’s Prayer is really similar to when we pray Thanks, God, Sorry, God, and God, I need?”
They looked puzzled until we talked it through together. That calling God “hallowed” or holy is a means of thanksgiving and praise, proclaiming God’s awesome work and nature. That when we ask God to forgive us, we are saying sorry. That we need our daily bread, God’s provision, every day. The dots connected. The informal prayer time provided a base of support upon which we could lay the formal words from the Gospels. Now they know a way to pray that connects them to other believers, across the globe and throughout the ages, going back even to Jesus himself. What’s more, they know this prayer connects to their very ordinary and everyday lives and needs.
As with every other aspect of my spiritual life, our kids have not conformed to my expectations. They disrupted my personal prayer life. They didn’t learn prayer the way I expected or on my timetable. And yet they came to understand both spontaneous and prescribed ways to pray, and they helped me see God at work even more through the process.
Amy Julia Becker is the author of Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most (Zondervan) and A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny. She lives with her husband and three children in western Connecticut.