Everything I Need to Know About Prayer I Learned From My Two-Year-Old
One of the things I have committed to doing as a father is instilling in my kids a love for prayer. I try to model prayer for them at all time and in all circumstances. My hope and prayer is that my kids will “pray constantly” talking to God throughout the day whenever the spirit moves them. That said, there are certain times that we always pray with our kids. Those include simple prayers for children before meals and at bedtime. One of the decisions we made about prayer in our family is that before dinner each of the kids would say a short prayer. I encourage them to “mix things up” by offering suggestions and having different “themes” for our mealtime prayers. For example, some nights I will say, “I want you to thank God for our food then I want you to think of someone else that you can pray for.” Or, I might say, “tonight I want you pray for/about something you have never prayed for/about before.”
Now, I have four kids and sometimes these prayers take a while, but we use it as an opportunity to communicate with God and learn better how to pray. My kids range in age from almost 17 to 2, and they all get a chance to pray. The other night, I was particularly struck by my two year old son’s (Nathan’s) prayer. It went something like this:
Thank you Jesus for this food, and for Daddy and Mommy and Lyndsey and Joshua and Jacob and Mommy and Daddy. Thank you for my food and plate and spoon and fork and cup and drink. And, thank you for the table and this house and everything you give us. Please help my Daddy and Jacob to feel better. We love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I was struck by a number of things about his prayer. God has worked through my kids numerous times to teach me about him and to teach me about my relationship with him. However, this was something different. In this case, God worked through my two-year-old to remind me of some important things about prayer, and about kids:
1. Kids will mimic us in both the good and bad things we do. As I listened to Nathan, I heard him echo many of things he has heard me and his older siblings say in their prayers. “Please help my Daddy and Jacob feel better” was quoted almost verbatim from a bedtime prayer my nine-year-old (Jacob) has been saying almost every night asking God to heel him of a very severe case of eczema and heel me of a pinched nerve and back problems. Nathan had picked up on that and incorporated it into his own meal time prayer. Nobody ever told him that that was something he should pray for. Likewise, while I have explained to the older kids why we pray in Jesus’ name, with Nathan we have not yet had that conversation. Despite that, he has picked up on that model and incorporated it into his own prayers. So, what does that mean for us as parents and children’s ministry workers? First, I think it points to a fundamental truth when it comes to faith and spiritual disciplines – kids will live out what they see lived in front of them. Secondly, we must be very cautious that the habits we are instilling in our kids are good and Godly habits.
2. His prayer was very simple and from the heart. So often I think we tend towards formulaic prayers where we try to cover all the different types or kinds of prayers. Or, we easily get caught up in the “prayer game” of trying to balance praise and thanksgiving against requests and intercession. I think many of us as adults over-think our prayers and it becomes a laborious task rather than a personal conversation with our heavenly Daddy. In the prayer of a two-year-old I heard simplicity and genuineness that is often lacking in my own prayers.
3. God deserves praise for everything. I watched Nathan while he was saying his prayers. He looked around the table, thanked God for every single member of our family (some of us more than once) that was at table and then thanked God for supplying his basic needs like a spoon and a fork. We do not have to, and should not, wait until something big happens in our lives to thank God for the blessings he has given us. His presence and provision is as significant in the little things as it is in the big.
4. Prayer should not be self-centered but God-centered. Nathan did not ask for anything for himself. He thanked God for his provision and he made an intercessory prayer for his Dad and brother. How often do you pray without using the words “me” or “I?” His prayer was a model of God-centered prayer.
5. Nathan, at two years old, has discovered and based his prayer on one fundamental truth, “We love you.” God loves us, and one of the ways we express our love back to him is through prayer. We must never loose sight of this in our prayers.
6. Toddlers are capable of having a significant prayer life if we will only model it for them and teach them. Nathan may not understand everything about prayer, but at a young age, we are working to build a solid foundation in prayer that we hope will last him the rest of his life.
God can work through any means he pleases to speak to us and set us back on the right path. As a parent and children’s ministry worker, I find that he often works through the kids in my life to teach me everything from spiritual disciplines to deep theological truths.