Praying with Children

August 18th, 2011
Photo © by caddy corner | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Prayer is our relationship with God.

As we help children talk with God, we teach them about God. Having someone reliable beyond ourselves to whom we can turn and talk and listen to is a crucial part of our relationship with God. When the going gets tough, and all God’s children experience this at one time or another, it is good to know that God is there.

When my son was seven, he came home from school angry, upset, sad, and crying. “No one likes me but God!”

To know God’s love is a powerful motivation toward trusting that love, and out of that love, trusting ourselves and others.

One child described prayer in this way. “Prayer is waiting for God to give you a ‘good idea,’” and “seeing what God has to say.” Another said that being with God in silence is like “God hugging you.”

A lesson I have learned over the years is that God’s “still, small voice” does contain, as the child said, “good ideas.” Oftentimes, we miss those ideas as we seek to understand. When this happens, the voice might remind us, “I didn’t ask you to understand; I asked you to love.”

Prayer begins with silence.

When we listen, we begin to learn to be comfortable with silence. That silence helps us to recognize God’s presence in any situation.

The psalmist prayed: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; . . . If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).

For some pray-ers, silence is crucial. Others find that music draws them closer to the presence of God. Hearing God’s Word requires that one learn to listen with “inner ears.” But there is no formula for prayer. Each person prays out of his or her own uniqueness and personal relationship with God.

How do we help children grow in their relationship with God?

Children experience through their feelings. Being with God or Jesus on the level of feeling is like “taking Jesus’ hand” or “sitting on Jesus’ lap.” It is learning to trust God. In the process, a sense of connection and acceptance is established.

Children imitate adults. If the children in your class see you praying, they will be more likely to pray as well. Early prayers are generally short and language simple: “Thank you, God, for . . . . Amen.”

Children are spontaneous. Prayers occur in unexpected places and at unusual times. By encouraging spontaneity, you show that all life is part of being with God, and that prayer continues throughout the day.

Children learn to pray by praying. During my first year teaching kindergarten in the church, I opened each session with prayer. Knowing the brief attention span of young children, my prayers were brief. A few weeks into the session, Debbie said to me, “Teacher, just as I am beginning to talk to God, you say, ‘Amen.’” Give your children plenty of time to offer their own prayers.

Children’s prayers come from the heart. I remember one day telling Katelyn a story about Jesus. When the story was finished, there was a hushed silence, finally broken by Katelyn who exclaimed, “I love Jesus!” Her words expressed her feelings, and in those words were her prayer. There was no need to add a more formal prayer. “I love Jesus!” said it all.

Children use symbols to make connections. Symbols, particularly those associated with seasons of the Christian year, can enrich the prayer experience. A manger, star, palm branch, crown of thorns, and butterfly all elicit certain feelings, some of joy and thanksgiving, while others of sorrow or repentance. Possibly no symbol is as powerful as that of the cross, the symbol most often associated with Christ. Such symbols are threads that bind us to God.

I recall a story in which a young girl found her grandmother spinning in a closed room. Because the child was about to face a difficult time, the grandmother placed an invisible thread in her granddaughter’s hand, the end of which was held by the older woman so that the child would know she was never alone. God places such an invisible thread in our hands. We call it prayer, and through prayer, we know that God is always present and we are never alone.

Suggestions for using prayer in the classroom

1. Plan specific times and places to pray. Prayer can be used as an opening to the lesson, before a snack, and as a benediction or closing when the children are dismissed.

2. Use prayer-related Bible verses, hymns, and other stories as a way to help children recognize prayer as their way to talk and listen to God. Respond to any questions or comments the children might have.

3. Introduce silence in brief amounts, increasing the time as the children become comfortable with silence.

4. Write the names of the children in your class on cards. Attach the cards to the chairs in your worship center. When a child is absent, pray for him or her. A follow-up card or phone call will remind the children that they continue to be in your prayers even when they are absent.

5. Pray together the Lord’s Prayer. Talk about the meaning of the words as you repeat each phrase.

6. Take a field trip outside. Invite the children to find examples of God’s goodness. Offer prayers of thanksgiving for all the blessings from God.

7. Engage older children in a guided faith meditation. Ask the students to close their eyes, put their hands in their laps and their feet on the floor with backs straight, but comfortable. Say, “You are sitting in a meadow of red and purple flowers. Yellow butterflies float around you. Bright bluebirds sing above you. You feel a sense of joy. (Pause.) Then Jesus joins you and together you look at the sky in silence. There is something you have always wanted to ask him. You do so now. (Pause.) Then, knowing you can return to this place in your imagination to talk with Jesus, you return to your Sunday school class and open your eyes.”

A beautiful sunrise, the song of birds, or a fresh breeze give us reason to offer our thanks. Feelings of doubt, fear, or anger are opportunities to ask for God’s help. Selfishness or thoughtlessness are cause to go to God for forgiveness. Your children are open to your leadership and example as you see life experiences as opportunities to talk to God.

I may not hear God’s voice
Or see or touch God’s face,
But through the love you show to me,
I know God’s in this place.

I may not know the names for God,
But I can feel God’s care
Through loving people who show me
That God is everywhere.

What are you learning about prayer from the children in your class?

comments powered by Disqus