Although, I will admit we’ve taken some liberties in adjusting this traditional material. I mean, who at 4 years old, really wants to go to sleepy time with, “If I die before I wake,” bouncing around in your head?
As they’ve gotten older, we have challenged our children to be thoughtful, to be considerate and to think of the needs of others in our prayer time, and allowed them to freelance their prayers a bit more. We occasionally need to prompt them about focusing on others and staying away from their own material needs, but they are still kids after all, and that stuffed animal they want for Christmas is really, really, really important and God should know about it, just in case Santa needs a memory jog.
Many nights during prayer time I have been impressed and proud over their thoughtful prayers and how they consider the needs of others: “Please Lord heal my friend’s body and make her healthy so that her mommy won’t worry and she can be happy.” From the lips of a child to God’s ears.
I have also recognized the occasional jab or poke at a sibling during prayer, “And please Lord, help my sister not be so annoying and mind her own business and not play with my toys.” Not exactly the spirit we are looking for, but we serve a forgiving God.
Recently, on a drive to our local YMCA, our daughter felt the urge to pray for her upcoming day, always a good practice: “God, please help me today, help me be good to my friends and help me believe in myself.”
My son, listening to his sister’s prayer, paused when she was done and then gave a thoughtful critique of her prayer, “I think that prayer was a bit ... aggressive.” Um, aggressive? What?
Recognizing that my son clearly misunderstood the term “aggressive,” my wife defined it for him and tried to help him formulate his words to match what he was feeling. We believe he was trying to communicate that our daughter should focus on others and not herself. And while we try to allow our children freedom in their prayers, we thought it would be appropriate to give some gentle correction and explain that it is OK to pray for yourself too. But really, can any prayer from a child be wrong?
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
So today I say, with my son’s permission, “Lord, let me be like my children and AGGRESSIVE in my prayers for my wife, my children, our friends, family and this community.”
(Editor’s Note: Matt Ryerson has a beautiful family: his wife, son, two daughters, Tucker the family dog and seven chickens. All of his family prays daily ... except the dog and chickens, because they cannot speak, obviously. Matt’s column appears on alternating Wednesdays in the Cleveland Daily Banner.)