I pray with my children....
...before each meal.
...before a special event.
...when someone expresses a fear.
...when someone complains of a physical ache.
...when our day is going poorly--as in, I'm pulling my hair out!
...when I tuck each child in at night.
Different times in our parenting years, we've tried structured family prayer time. It works quite well when just Mommy, Daddy, and the two boys are present. During those times we used the ACTS acronym, with Daddy opening the prayer, followed by each person contributing something as we go through each part separately (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication).
Put the girls in the mix and things always fell apart--very little actual praying, much irritation, some tears.
Now that Beth is two and Mary is four, both girls will color, draw, or paint at a table long enough for us to have reasonably-structured corporate prayer. Mommy and Daddy are still a bit frazzled, but God is honored and everyone participates. Afterwards, we all feel great. Rejuvenated. Confident.
The only problem is, Daddy is absent from our home most of the time. That leaves me filling in the gap, seventy percent of the time.
Recently, I came up with a plan--or rather, God put a plan in my head. And it's working! Let me first say, I do believe God loves any family attempt at corporate prayer. And shame on us for not doing it consistently!
But this Momma needed some way to make it saner, so this is what we've been doing:
The kids and I all have notebooks in front of us at the dining room table--yes, including the two girls. We make three columns on our page--one for thanks, one for people, one for things.
The boys and I make at least two entries under each column. Mary, age four, dictates her prayer requests to me, and I write them in her columns. She then colors, draws or paints on another piece of paper, until it's her turn to pray. I just verbally remind her of her requests, when her turn comes.
Beth, age two, just scribbles on her notebook page. When it's her turn to pray, she bows, folds her hands, and says whatever, and we understand a portion of it. God gets every word, though, and that's all that matters! :) She's happy to do it. If she's too wiggly or screams to get out of her booster before we're done, I give her some coveted food to munch on, like cheese. (Yes, I'm shameful that way.)
Peter, who sound spells and cares about ideas, writes a lot. Paul, a perfectionist, spends way too much time making his list--worrying about the spelling, penmanship, and grammar, despite my insisting that these are lists, not sentences. I've learned that Paul needs to start his "lists" before the two year old is called to the table. She doesn't have the patience for long writing sessions.
Once everyone has at least two entries in each column, I open the prayer and we go around the table, taking turns talking to Jesus about the two or more things on our page, from the column we're on. Because there are three columns, we go around the table three times. Then, Momma or a volunteer closes the prayer.
I love it! And in the future, I look forward to adding more columns, starting with one for confession.
We date our entries and draw a line under them, so that the same page can be used the next day, if there's room. When a prayer has been answered, we'll circle it on our page. Later, when we have some things circled, we'll do a brief "praises" component, in which we tell everyone how God answered yes.
On the days Daddy can participate, he both opens and closes the prayer. And as our spiritual leader, my husband also reads from the Bible after the breakfasts he's here for. Also, two nights a week, he arrives home just after the boys' tuck-in time, and prays with them (around 9:15 p.m.).
Studies show that children will take these spiritual practices with them, through life, if the man of the home leads them. The same goes for church attendance. Husband and I are cognizant that my solo contribution doesn't yield as much fruit, but my leading seventy percent of the time, and husband leading thirty percent of the time, seems better than the children only participating in these spiritual practices a couple days per week, when husband is available for leadership.
The best spiritual yield for children, studies suggest, is when both Mom and Dad are present for church services, and for home spiritual practices. This article helps illustrate the importance of Dad's spiritual leadership.
Here are some prayer entries from my nine year old, from earlier today:
Thanks column: for pretty snow, sledding, trees
People column: for salvation for Richard and Elizabeth, Grandma and Grandpa, Elena's family
Things column: for a hermit crab, for caterpillars this year, for bullfrogs
My seven year old prayed....
Thanks column: for my high score in multiplication, that Peter played a board game with me
People column: for Peter to read without OCD problem, to heal Mommy's headaches
Things column: for warmer weather, for pretty birds
My four year old prayed...
Thanks column: for Aunt Lorrie, sailboats, water, Mommy, Peter
People column: for Beth to be good, for Peter to be good
Things column: for a new soccer ball, for a clothesline
After the lists are made, the prayer part only takes about 10 minutes.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.