We all crowded onto the bed and bowed our heads. Some of us didn’t close our eyes. (Okay, that was me. I rarely close my eyes to pray. There are reasons, but I won’t get into them here.) Starting with the youngest, we began our bedtime prayers. The words were exactly the same as the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that. And it wasn’t only the youngest. Even I, so very aware of how rote this time had become, found myself praying essentially the same thing as every other night.
Maybe you’ve been there, too. By the time they were three years old, we had moved beyond the memorized prayers such as, “God is great, God is good…”. Or we thought we had. In reality, we simply made our own recitations. At the table, it’s “Thank you, God, for food, friends, and family. Amen.” While I appreciate the brevity of such a blessing (because I don’t like my dinner to get cold), I reject the flippancy of it…the way we hardly get our eyes closed before we pick up our forks. At bedtime, I’ve actually heard the children pray each other’s prayers or repeat their Dad’s habitual words.
What I’m looking for is sincerity, a sense that they (and I) experience authentic gratitude for the blessings of this particular day and confidence in God’s sovereignty over tomorrow. With sincerity in mind, I’m going to try these four questions before we crowd onto the bed tonight. (For my English grammar friends, please forgive the dangling prepositions. I was trying to write like people talk.)
What did you do/think/say today that you know God is proud of?
We often (rightly) focus on confession in prayer, but our kids can encourage themselves by recounting spiritual successes from the day. It’s easy to overlook God’s support in the small things, and remembering a few will help our children see that God is not only interested but intimately involved in their lives. It might be not saying something ugly to a classmate. It might be remembering a Bible verse on the bus. It might be choosing obedience rather than complaining.
What are you proud of?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with our children acknowledging their skills. If it’s beating a classmate in a foot race or making 100 on a spelling test, these small celebrations deserve our attention. By framing them in the context of prayer, we correctly attribute these seemingly “worldly” successes to God, who gave us the abilities/talents/skills to do these things.
What do you need to ask forgiveness for?
When we take a minute to reflect on the times when we disappointed God or hurt another person, we learn from those situations. We can acknowledge them, assure forgiveness, and move on in right relationship with God and our family members. The mere act of confession prompts spiritual growth.
What do you need help/guidance/strength to do tomorrow?
Not “Help me be a better Christian,” but real situations that need God’s clear hand. Push your kids to be specific here. By recognizing their need for God’s help, our children will quickly grow to depend on Him. Plus, they are planting the seeds for tomorrow’s prayer of gratitude. PARENTING BONUS: we hear where they need support through the day tomorrow, and we can bless them by following through in prayer and gentle accountability.
By taking a few minutes to reflect on our days before we bow our heads, we can convert our memorized prayers into authentic conversations that bless the Giver of All Good Things and bring us more fully into His presence.
Have you found yourself in a similar situation? How did you move out of habitual prayers with your children? I’d love to hear your comments below.