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 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.
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