Editor's Note: Today we're introducing a new series on the blog, a series about the challenges of raising loving, spiritually-aware kids from Michael Bennie who blogs about his experiences parenting his three young daughters (a 5-yr-old and 3-yr-old twins). He'd love to hear from all of you (parents, grandparents, not-yet-parents) about how prayer time works (or doesn't) for you.
A Prayer-time Prayer
I want our evening prayer time to be fun. But I also want my kids to stick around for the fun. They do have fun during prayer time; it's just fun completely unrelated to the prayer process. They laugh, play, box, squirm, bounce, wrestle, bite, kiss, tickle and wiggle, and that is fun.
But how do I crack down on these innocent activities so destructive of the focus I'm going for without wreaking another kind of destruction even less desirable than playing during prayer? I can explain to Brielle that God loves fun, and loves to hear us laugh, but sometimes He likes us to take a break from laughing so we can talk to Him about things that are not just laughing things. I think it made sense to her, but it sure felt like saying, "Talking with God is the vegetables, and the stuff you really want to do is dessert."
How do I draw their attention to the need for reverence, for silence, for respect, for awe, without raining on the parade of their God-given joy? Shoot, how do I even get through a modest-length bedtime prayer without sending someone to timeout or sounding like a self-interrupting idiot?
Melía, for example, has learned to pray the way we have modeled, even when there is no competing noise. "Dear Jesus--I'M PRAYING! Thank You for this wonderful--I'M PRAYING! Thank You for Mommy and Daddy and--I'M PRAYING! Thank You for Brielle and Ashlyn--MOMMY, I'M PRAYING!" These Tourette's-like utterances punctuate her prayers, just as they do ours. But, Lord, it is sad. What can we do?
OK, let's brainstorm options:
- Ignore the bad behavior and hope it goes away.
- Send all offenders to timeout on first offense, even if it means we're down to Mommy-Daddy prayer time with screaming children in various corners of the house.
- Don't miss a beat; simply swat children as I pray for God to help us love people even when they are not nice to us.
- Best of #1 and #3: Ignore misdeeds during prayer (as inaudible as they may render the prayer itself), swat child after we are all done praying for love.
- Scold children via God by praying for divine intervention to control their misbehavior (my least favorite option because of how often my parents prayed things like, "And please help Michael not to scratch his brother's face while we are praying to You," after which I would insist that God ignore any such entreaties).
- Give up on bedtime prayers till the children act appropriately (i.e. potentially not until our funeral).
I have tried all of the above except #6, and let me tell You, that one gets pretty tempting sometimes.
Maybe this all bothers me so much because I know how hard it is to settle my own soul down to pray. I have my own versions of squirming and giggling and fiddling and fussing that derail my soul from focus on its Creator: phone calls, self-congratulation, self-condemnation, NPR, blaming, worrying and Figuring It All Out, just for starters. I'm sure God has tried a list much longer than the above to get me to have the kind of fun that talking with Him can be, but so often I settle for lesser diversions.
Parents are wont to push their offspring to succeed in ways they've never been able to themselves. I guess this is a wholesome drive at times, but often it's no more than a lust for vicarious accomplishment. It's not about the kid; it's about me.
Maybe I'm so desperate for them to get this prayer thing now because I fear I've never really gotten it myself.
Be that as it may, Lord.... Help me help them. Help them. Help me. Help!
Michael Bennie writes from California's San Bernardino mountains, where he and his wife, Rachelle, parent their 5-year-old, Brielle, and twin 3-year-olds, Melía and Ashlyn. In his down time, he is a 9th-grade school counselor in San Bernardino City Unified School District. He vaguely remembers having hobbies of his own before the princess proliferation, but still squeezes in audio books, a tiny men's Bible study (which, surprisingly, includes no tiny men), dates with Rachelle, random hikes, Daddy blogging, a spring marathon and a fall 3-day novel. He is mad at the Amish because they have what he wants: peace, community and simplicity.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/680