Why You Don't Pray For Your Kids
Raising your kids in a religious tradition is frowned upon by many people. Renown Atheist Richard Dawkins calls it one of the most despicable sins a parent can commit against their child. People who agree with Dawkins' line of thinking demand that children should never be “indoctrinated” with the religion of their parents, yet have no qualms about passing along philosophy, politics, or humanistic ideals on to their children.
A parent should teach their children to think critically about the world and to prepare them for the world that waits them when they are old enough to leave. Teaching religious beliefs and practices are one way of preparation. The trouble comes in when parents teach their kids to test the limits of their faith in order to transition faith from transference to personal.
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Passing on your religious beliefs to your children is neither an art or a science. There is no paint-by-numbers grid or manual that provides step-by-step instructions. The transition from “parent’s” faith to personal faith is often sloppy. Every person reaches a point when they question all of the things that have been passed down informationally (indoctrinated, if you will). Information is realized, applied, and accepted through experience. Children often slip on the parents shoes, but they themselves don’t understand the concept of parenting until they have had to walk a mile in their own parenting shoes.
So how can a parent navigate the treacherous waters of passing their faith to their kids while allowing the freedom of personal experience?
It is the only through the discipline of prayer.
Who to turn to when you need prayer
I can count on one hand the people I would call if I desperately needed prayer. And although that sounds like an indictment of the poor spiritual culture that defines American spirituality, I am thankful for that handful. I count my parents as those few who stand in the gap or intercede or whatever other phrase there is to describe people who just cry out to God on the behalf of others. More times than I can remember I have asked them to pray. More times than I know of I am sure they were praying for me anyway.
I can look at the state of my world and unwaveringly declare that we need more parents who pray.
But we also need more children who pray.
I guess you could look at it this way: Everyone is either a parent or a child, therefore there is a need for you to pray.
I asked my Mom to look back over her life and pinpoint the moments when she felt that she started down the path to becoming a prayer-warrior. And although she shied away from the title (all true prayer-warriors do) she came to person. Not a time, a crisis, a revelation. A person. It wasn't a seven-step seminar or a booklet my mom read that set her on the path. It was a person who took time to teach the importance of prayer.
In the age of the information super-highway it is striking to not be taking back to a book or to an article in a current magazine. And I must admit that writing a blog about the subject matter in light of the details seems a little ironic as well. So I will refrain from giving you steps or pointers or hints at how to become a better pray-er.
I will only point you to another example that I find quite familiar to the story of my mother's prayer mentor.
It is in Luke 11:1-13. The disciples wanted to learn to be better pray-ers (and perhaps you do as well). So they went to the one who they knew prayed the most and asked for help. Jesus was always sneaking away to pray and the disciples knew it and they were wise to ask Jesus for help.
Is there someone you can ask that question to? "Can you teach me to pray?" I hope so. I pray so. And I pray that you will have the courage to go and ask them to mentor you, to coach you. And I hope that you learn not only how to pray but how important it is that you pray.
Children give us a reason to pray.
Our children have a way of teaching us. It is the way of bad decisions and poor choices. I made them. You’ve made them. Our kids will make them. When these poor decisions are made we will bump up against the idea of powerlessness in new and frightful ways. It is this powerlessness that brings us to a place to make a choice. Believe in an all-powerful God and trust him. Or we can choose to buckle down and put our authority on display - oft times this is violent and emotionally scarring to the kids - and make our children do what we say is right.
So why do we choose to violently put our authority on stage in the light of this new powerlessness? Perhaps it is learned behavior. Perhaps its a fight or flight reaction. More than likely it is because we are insecure in our own abilities and lack trust in God to make up for our slack. If only we could ask Him for some help...
When you choose to pray for your children you are choosing to trust God rather than your own abilities. This, to me, is the single biggest reason as to why parents have a hard time praying for their children. We feel that its our “job” to play the role of God in the lives of our kids. That is why we overprotect and under-pray. We simply don’t trust God with our most treasured possession. But we can learn.
When I questioned my mother about becoming a praying parent she told me that it developed over time and that older saints had taken time to demonstrate how to pray. Just like the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, it is necessary to have people teach us how to pray.
A prayer habit is better caught than taught. What I mean by that is that I can readily give you a list of all the ways to pray - all the functions of effective prayer - and then let you figure it out yourself. Or I can invite you into a personal prayer time and show you the paradoxical union of vulnerability and limitless power that only prayer provides. Seeing it on display is much more educational than reading a text book.
My prayer life fails. Constantly.
Despite my best attempts, establishing a consistent prayer life is a constant struggle. It is the curse of my self-reliant, only-child syndrome. I have trouble trusting God for the miracles that I would rather work on myself.
But my daughter, now in school, is showing me how powerless I am to protect, defend, and combat on her behalf. She will need to to learn to do that for herself. The older she gets the less I am in control of her spiritual life. Perhaps a sports metaphor will help me explain.
A point guard controls the action and the flow of a basketball game. He is in the game. He is the lead communicator to the other players on the court. The stronger the point guard, the stronger the team.
Our point guard retires from playing but continues his career as a coach. No longer on the floor, he has to cast a vision, a game plan, to the team in regards to the best way to win the game. He can scream and strategize but he is no longer in charge of the execution. He has to trust his point guard to play.
The coach eventually becomes an executive. He now only affects the game by selecting players and coaches. His influence on the current game is minimal. His work was collecting the right players and coaches. He has to trust that the game plans are good and the players are bonding together.
The executive now reaches the level that most are familiar with. His working life is done and now he is now just a fan. His influence is miniscule. As the final seconds tic away, the only power the fan has left is to pray for the last shot to go in. He has played, he’s coached, he’s managed, and now he prays.
This is the parent’s role in the spiritual life of their children. For parents play time, that is, being a kid themselves, is over. Young parents are learning how to be coaches and managers of toddlers and teenagers. And then, roughly 20 years later, parents semi-retire from the game. It is up to the children to execute the right plays and make the tough decisions. And parents pray.
There is a secret, though. The point guard prays he can run the plays correctly. The coach prays he has prepared the right strategy. The executive prays, too. He prays the last draft pick won’t be a bust. Their prayers are different and they evolve over time.
I fail at prayer because I want to be the point guard who doesn’t trust the fans, the coaches, or the executives. But I am learning. My daughter is teaching me. My wife is teaching me. My mother and father are teaching me. My pastor is teaching me. The Holy Spirit is teaching me.
I guess a good prayer life requires a lot on mentors.
An ongoing discussion about growing up, passing on, and the ties that bind us together. Following Jesus is a family affair — no matter who you call your family.