Sharp About Your Prayers

the challenges, absurdities, and joys of an urban faith

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Raise Up a Child

June 1st, 2011 · 1 Comment · Faith and the City

“How can I give my children a spiritual foundation?”

“Where should I take my daughter so that she can learn about her faith tradition?”

“What should I do so that my son will develop a solid moral foundation?”

I get a lot of questions like these.

My first response is usually to say that there is no quick and easy solution.  There is no injection that will produce instant faith.  There is no vitamin that will provide immediate spiritual grounding.

Still, these important questions do have answers.  In recent years, we have learned a lot about how faith is formed.  For example, Robert Coles, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and author of The Spiritual Life of Children, observes that adults who have an active spiritual life tend to have one thing in common:

Their parents (or another significant adult) talked about faith with them as children and practiced the faith in their presence while they were growing up.

Parents who raise spiritually mature children are those who have conversations about God in their homes.  When God comes up, whether it is at the ball field, on the crosstown bus, or during a quiet time before bed, children learn from parents who are willing to engage.

My friend Stan Hall once quipped that he wondered if the worst thing that ever happened to faith formation in this country was the invention of the Sunday School.  The Sunday School?  Yes, Stan argued, because parents began to defer questions and conversations about God to the experts at church.

“I don’t know why Jesus died.  Why don’t you ask your Sunday School teacher?”

In other words, don’t defer!

Taking kids to church is important.  Helping them to learn how to be part of a religious community is important.  And yes, Sunday School is important.  (One of the founding members of the Sunday School movement, back in the 19th century, Joanna Bethune, was a member of my congregation here in New York).  But above everything else, the simple act of talking with our children about God—expressing our own beliefs or struggles to believe—is the greatest gift that we can give to the next generation.  This is a lesson not just for parents, but for all who have children in their lives.

The other thing that can be done at home, and will be absorbed like a sponge by these young souls, is to practice the faith together.  Usually, this means finding a regular time to pray.

We had some troubles with this at our home until we got a wonderful little book that now sits on our kitchen table.  Together We Pray: A Prayer Book for Families is by a very wise Presbyterian pastor and teacher, J. Bradley Wigger.  More than a how-to book, this small volume is chock full of prayers: prayers for mealtime and prayers for bedtime, prayers from the psalms and prayers for those who are sick, prayers that beginning readers can pray, and prayers that will bring tears to the eyes of adults.

The wonderful thing about Wigger’s book is that it has equipped our family for prayer.  When dinner was ready, we used to sit around the table and playfully argue over whose turn it was to pray.  Then one or another of us would, in a stumbling way, try to lead the family in prayer.  More often than not these attempts devolved into laughter—not a terrible thing, but a sort of awkward thing.

Once we began using the book, the pressure to figure out what to pray for, how to begin, and how to end was off.  We focused our attention on hearing the words and letting them shape our hearts.

These days our family uses the book about half the time, and we do free form prayer–someone composes it on the spot–the other half.  Now, the laughter is not so much out of awkwardness, but out of joy.

What about you?  Please share your story.

What sort of praying did you see in your home?

How did you learn the rhythms of the faith?

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Laura FissingerNo Gravatar

    My parents only prayed a rote prayer at dinner time. They didn’t want to pretend to believe things they didn’t believe — I am grateful. Other adults — certain teachers, aunts, uncles, family friends — prayed in front of me and with me. People from all denominations prayed with me. They did more good than I imagined at the time — they taught me why praying changes life, and a life.