What I’ve Learned from Praying with My Children {and a giveaway}

Dear Lord, Thank you for riding on steam train. Thank you for riding on trolley train. Thank you for riding on Thomas. You are my pray. A-men!

I have heard this prayer from my 3 ½ year-old son for some time now, and it never fails to make me smile. Although it sounds a bit like my son is thanking God for being a divine train passenger, he is in fact thanking God for his own various memorable train-riding experiences. I’ll admit I’m not sure what exactly he means by “You are my pray.”

What I do know is he loves to pray and he is enthusiastic and grateful, and it does my soul good to hear his prayers.

I love it even more when he occasionally changes it up, such as last night when, after reciting his usual prayer, he announced that he wanted to pray again, and added “Thank you for my new bike helmet!” The best is when he or his 6-year-old brother pray for another person without being prompted. Or surprise me with a new thought or question about God in our prayer time.

I remember when my older son was still learning to talk and every once in a while he would pop out a new word or phrase I was certain I hadn’t taught him. My first reaction was always surprise and a little uneasiness, but my next reaction was a sense of liberation and of letting go. What a relief to realize that I wasn’t responsible for teaching him every single last bit of knowledge that he needed to know to make his way in the world. Some small part of me had indeed labored under that misunderstanding, and occasionally I still fall prey to it.

The truth is that both my boys are going to learn a whole lot of things from people other than me, and thank goodness, because there are a lot of subjects I’m not all that up on. (I still don’t know who’s going to help them with their math homework after, say, fifth grade, and they’re definitely on their own if they decide to learn a foreign language other than Spanish.)

Not only have I come to accept how much they are going to learn from people other than me, I’m still amazed by how much I learn from my boys.

When it comes to praying with them, I so often start from the point of view that it’s all about me teaching them. I do have some theological wisdom and experience to share with them, and yet the intensity and the wholeheartedness of their prayers, the interesting questions they ask, all of these things teach and strengthen me. When they ask questions of me, such as the other night when my older son asked me just how Jesus could be God’s son and God too, I have to sift through my own thoughts on the subject, at times dust off some long-ago-learned theology, and at other times simply marvel at their take on a subject about which I have ceased to wonder, to my detriment.

Praying with them is theologically interesting and faith-strengthening. More often than not, I find praying with them to be the most connected I feel to God all day. They just give me so much for which to be grateful. They remind me of all the things that are right with the world and the blessings, and they even help me to get upset about some of the things that are wrong. When my older son passionately declared the other day that we should all live in trees so we could avoid tearing down all the forests, OK, it made me smile but it also made me think about sustainable living and what kind of job I’m doing with that, what kind of example I’m showing them.

I’ve also realized that the prayers I pray with them, far from being some kind of watered-down “example” prayers to show them how a good Christian might talk to God, have more clarity and purpose and purity than most of the prayer I do on my own. It’s not such a far leap to say that they might be more effective too.

It’s funny, isn’t it? I spend so much time trying to make my boys more like me, and a surprising amount of the time, I end up realizing that I should try to become more like them.

Julia RollerJulia Roller

Julia Roller is the author of Mom Seeks God, the story of her journey to reconnect with God through ten essential spiritual practices that she did her best to fit into the chaotic life of a mom with small children. She lives in San Diego with her husband, two sons, and miniature dachshund.

For more information about Julia Roller, her book, or the live chat visit her online home at juliaroller.com, become a fan on Facebook (JuliaLRoller), or follow her on Twitter (@julialroller).

 Guess what?? Today we are giving away 3 copies of Julia Roller’s book Mom Seeks God!

Enter to win via the rafflecopter below!!

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  1. Su Ann says

    I too like when my children pray. Every once and a while they will surprise me by praying or thanking for something that I didn’t see coming. However, most times it is a struggle to get them to be still even….thx

    • says

      Hi Su Ann! Yes, we have those days too, where they’re just giggling and can’t seem to settle down for prayer. Sometimes I just go with it and make it a lighthearted prayer or sing the Johnny Appleseed (Oh, the Lord is good to me…). We’ve even been known to hold ears instead of hands around the dinner table. :)

  2. anessa says

    I love to be reminded of the strong faith my children have. They seem to have no doubts and will trust God always.

  3. Charisa Martin says

    I have so been convicted lately that I need to receive God’s grace in mothering. Those moments where I want to hang my head in shame are those very places that the Lord wants to extend His grace and His hand and say, “Let’s try this again together.” :) SO GOOD!!!

    • says

      Thanks, Charisa! One of the main things I realized as I went through the ten different spiritual practices in my book was that I needed to allow myself some more grace, as a mom and as a child of God who wasn’t praying as much as I thought I should. I’m so glad that you’ve been able to see these as places to meet God too.

  4. Nancy L S says

    I am always surprised what comes up in my children’s prayers. You really get to know their hearts during this special time.

  5. Jodi says

    I could use guidance in starting to pray with my son outside of our church. We need to strengthen our faith in this chaotic lifestyle in which we live.

    • says

      one way I like to pray with my boys is in the car when you see an ambulance or hear a fire engine (with your eyes open of course, if you’re driving!) :) I find that my boys are so interested in emergency vehicles and I like to direct their thoughts to God and to those around them who are in need.

  6. Lori Wildenberg says

    Love the way little ones pray. Their trust in God that is demonstrated by their words and in their hearts challenges me. Thanks Julia!

    • says

      I love that you said that. It’s so good to reflect with our children too about the answers to the prayers, not just the requests we make. I find that sometimes we forget to make this connection! Thanks for the note.

  7. Laurie says

    Would love to learn more about the spiritual disciplines you used to reconnect with God. My time with Him needs some structure. Thanks!

  8. Cat @ MaryMarthaMama.com says

    I really enjoyed this! We often hear frequent prayers about trains around here too. And sometimes they are for some of the Thomas trains as well. “Help Diesel not to be bad…” Thanks for sharing!

  9. Tara Eveland says

    This is so heartwarming! I feel the same way when I hear my 2 year old saying a little prayer even though I dont understand all of it, just to see his little head bowed and his eyes closed warms my heart! My daughter is 6 and I just bought her a tiny prayer journal notebook that she is now copying her prayers into and writing them down. I have done this in hopes of showing and teaching her that she can really TALK to God, and not just have to repeat the same prayers like for dinner, nighttime, ext. but that she can talk to him like a friend, at anytime :)

    • says

      Tara, I love the prayer journal idea. A friend of mine gave her daughter a gratitude journal and she scribbles in it even though she can’t write yet. But in her own way she expresses her thanks, and of course God understands her. This seems like something I should try too with my boys!

      • says

        I thought I would return to this comment now that it has been 3 months and let you know that the little pink journal I let her pick out is so great! It stays in our school room and she uses it all the time! Many of the thoughts are her own so I do not read it, but it is greatly worn already, being it was just a Walmart little notebook. However, it has been such a blessing! The INTENT as I said was to hopefully get her into the mindset of thinking of the Lord as a personal friend, not as a much higher being that she has to say ‘appropriate and dutiful’ prayers to, and not have to repeat the same prayers all the time.
        It has worked. I have watched my daughter transform in her prayer life! She does use the journal to write down who she wants to remember to pray for now, but we say our bed time prayers together and we say them out loud and WOW she has blown me away and brought me to tears at times with them. The prayers of a child are SO POWERFUL! They are nothing but 100% faith filled and overflowing with expectations and gratitude.
        Also, I want to share at VBS a few weeks ago, each night they would talk about accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior and what that meant, and my daughter prayed the prayer on July 29th 2014 and I will never forget it! I cried and rejoiced! I explained to her how she is no longer covered by MY faith, but she is in her own walk now with the Lord.
        Oh and she ALSO has started to pray at different times of the day. When she is upset with her brother she will go into a room and privately calm down and pray. She will pray also after she has gotten into trouble and she will ask my forgiveness and then I used to ask her ‘have you asked the Lord yet” and she used to have to be told to do so, and now she does it BEFORE she comes to us and asks forgiveness for her wrongs.
        She prays for the future, as in she asks for help with her anger and to be more loving, she prays for the sick people she knows, and she really has a heart for homeless people and prays for them a lot. I have to say that investing in that little journal that was cheap but it is most deff. invaluable to her life and my life as well! If you did not, I encourage you to let your boys go pick out one that appeals to them visually and try this! God Bless!

  10. MomsBandB says

    I love hearing my children pray for each other! And it is so awesome when they can see their prayers answered!

  11. Courtney says

    Praying for our children is so important! But it is also important to let them hear you pray for them! Leaving them encouraged through prayer is a way we can bless our children.

    • says

      That’s so true. I remember a story I read once about a mom who used to go into her teenage son’s room late at night and thank God for all the things she liked about him, even when she couldn’t think of many. Years later, he told her he had heard her do that and how much it meant to him! How important for our children to know that we constantly thank God for them and lift up their needs to God.

  12. Amy says

    This is so true. We try our best to teach our kids what we think they should know, when so often it’s their child-like faith that God would have us to learn.

  13. Carrie says

    I try to pray for my children with them every morning before school and at night before bed. Sunday sermon was about how our children need to see us living a godly life. Do they see you reading your Bible, Do they hear you pray so they know how to pray themselves, do they see you witnessing to other? It was quite convicting.

    • says

      Carrie, I like the idea of praying in the morning before school. We often feel so rushed, but that’s such a great way to calm us down and remind us what matters. Thanks!

  14. Jennifer McLarty says

    Such a great reminder for praying with our kids! My oldest (3.5 years) is still uncertain about praying on her own … and maybe that’s my fault? Something to work on for sure!

    • says

      I’m sure she’ll see you taking time for prayer and learn from that. Someone told me the other day that most faith practices are “caught, not taught” and I think there’s a great deal of truth to that!

      • Jennifer McLarty says

        I was amazed by my daughter yesterday. I sat down at the table to do some writing and she decided to “write” as well. She was talking as she wrote so I thought I’d listen to what she was saying and this is what she said, “Dear God, Everything you created is beautiful! Thank-you for you! Thank-you for Nadia coming for a sleep-over! I love you God! Your things are beautiful! You are beautiful!” So, she does pray on her own! Just not at traditional (meal times, before bed, etc.) times. :)

        • says

          What a beautiful story!! And such a good reminder that we don’t always know how they are praying in their hearts. It’s so cool that you were able to catch a glimpse this way. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  15. michelle h says

    i’ve had the same experience, learning so much from the littlest ones. No wonder Jesus said we should have a child-like faith!

  16. Danielle says

    I want to start prayer time with my daughter who is 2. Im really not sure how to go about it..

    • says

      I’m sure you’ll do great. Starting with prayers before bedtime is always a good thing. Plus, they’re so sweet when they’re snuggled in their beds! :)

  17. Leeanna says

    I love reading your blog. I always find inspiration. I have 5 kids of my own and hope everyday that I am teaching them what God wants me to teach them. Prayers have been said from the time they were able to talk but here lately my oldest 2 seem to find it harder to talk in their prayers. I think it’s where they are getting older. They will be 10 and 11 in the next 2 months. I still encourage them even if all they want to say is “Thank You for this day”. :)

    • says

      Wow, it sounds like you’re doing really well already! I feel the same way when sometimes my (older) son doesn’t want to pray aloud with me. I like to just keep asking and encouraging him when he does want to do so. Many blessings to you!

  18. Autumn Jones says

    I have found myself shifting the way I pray with my children. When I first started out praying with my kids, I would pray “teaching prayers.” Prayers that were designed to show my kids “how it’s done.” Sort of like a model or prescription of prayer. I have since found that that isn’t necessarily the best way. By “doing” prayer that way, I was inadvertently teaching my kids that:
    1. There is a certain way to pray. And, by extension, a certain way to NOT pray.
    2. Prayers are impersonal.
    3. Praying is not enjoyable because there are too many “rules.”

    Now, I just pray genuine prayers. Because genuine prayer IS teaching prayer! Genuine prayer models the relationship that sets us apart as Christ’s. So instead of changing the way I pray so my kids can get the “maximum benefit,” I pray as I normally would, as genuinely as I normally would, and as spontaneous as I normally would. Because that’s what I really want for my kids: For their prayers to come from their hearts. :)

    • says

      Oh, I am with you, Autumn! And that is so true that if we’re too strict in teaching them how to pray, they don’t realize there are other ways to do it. I used to worry that my sons would think they could only pray with their eyes closed and hands folded, so we try to mix up the posture and other things quite a bit, pray on the go, etc. It sounds like you’re doing such a great job teaching spontaneity to your children. Thank you for sharing!

  19. katie says

    I think it’s so important to encourage a relationship with God even if they haven’t become a Believer. You are setting up the frame work for years to come. They need to see you be authentic in your faith and prayers as well.

  20. Christy says

    I love praying with my son. He often has the same list but I so appreciate it when he adds something new that shows he’s been listening & caring for others.

  21. Minnesotamom says

    This was full of wonderful points that I needed to hear. How often I have put tons of pressure on myself regarding the outcome of my parenting, as if by stressing over it I could make my kids love Jesus. There is much freedom in having the simple faith of a child.

  22. Shannon Stubbs says

    I feel like I could have written this post. I love praying with my kids. My son is almost 2, and doesn’t talk a lot yet, but every time we pray at meals, he always thanks God for his artwork hanging on the wall. It’s so adorable. I love the quiet time I have with my daughter at night. Her prayers are so sweet, and she remembers things that I had forgotten I wanted to pray about that day. I am constantly learning things from them every day and listening to the things they say or do, I know I’m doing alright as a mom. My favorite is that my daughter will tell me that Jesus is in her heart, or other similar things. We spend time talking about how God loves what we do or how he wants us to do the right thing next time.

  23. says

    I desperately need to get back into the habit of praying regularly with my children. Seems like so much has been going on, I’ve just about dropped the ball on everything.

  24. Joy says

    Such a blessing! I have a 2 year old who also amazes me in praying for people. If she hears a child crying in the store, she wants to go over and pray that “he not be sad anymore.” Daddy is a part of the rescue squad, so carries a radio and listens to the 911 dispatches. Our daughter often asks to “pray for the sirens (emergency personnel) and the people who need help.”

  25. Shell says

    Thank you so much for your posts! I find myself learning from my children most as I watch them interact with each other. Prayer has been a most important navigational tool in each day’s voyage of training the kids to love “as I have loved you.”

    • says

      Great point about watching your children interact. It’s so heartwarming when they treat each other with love and respect. (Maybe it’s especially wonderful because it’s not all the time…) :)

  26. Tiffany S. Brown says

    I love listening to my son pray. He has the relationship with God I want. He talks to God about everything and sometimes I find myself holding back, even though I know he sees all and knows and His pure faith love it :)

  27. LindseyBell says

    There are few things that compare to listening to children pray. It’s just so honest…so authentic. Love it!

  28. Caitlyn says

    I still have young boys but I love seeing the my 2 year old loves Jesus when the day after we prayed over his ear he says “Jesus healed my ear!” Thank you for this post!

  29. Sara says

    Great post. I can relate when I hear my kids pray – as well as their reminders to do so. Many times we have sat in a restaurant where each of my kids (three who are at the age to do so) pray over the food and day… while I have to admit, I feel like I want to rush them. It is always a good reminder for me to learn from them their patience and boldness.

    • says

      Good point about the patience! Sometimes my younger son wants us to stop eating so he can pray again. Sometimes I just want to get on with the meal–but of course they are reminding us what is really important! :)

  30. Heather Mask says

    Wonderful article! I just sent this link via email to my husband too. My boys are just starting to participate more in family prayer, and I too think often about their amazing perspective. It touches my heart the things they choose to be thankful for and when they pray for others. Thanks for sharing :)

  31. Jamie says

    What great insight! Yesterday I was singing a worship song in the car and my 2 1/2 year old asked me to stop singing. I asked her why and she wanted me to “tell me ’bout Jesus!” It caught me off gaurd, but what a way for me to grow! I chose to explain the trinity to her and how the Holy Spirit lives in us. I know that will take her years to grasp, so why not start trying now?!

  32. Emmie says

    So encouraging and a great reminder that I need to pray with my kids more. I love to pray, but often focus so much on just praying by myself to God. I need to focus on praying with my kids. Thank you for the encouragement!

  33. Slie says

    My son is 9 years and we do devotions together every night in his bedroom. I get amazed at the things he prays for. I always ask him to pray first and tell God what is in his heart and then we read the bible and I pray. I have told him that he has to be honest with his feelings to God because he knows everything and he sees everything. Each time I correct him on something he would have done wrong at prayer time he will start by saying “Lord I am sorry for what I did” , the other day he did that I broke down.

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