My step-dad and I haven’t always had the best relationship. Looking back, there were many times I know I’m the one that was stubborn and difficult. At the same time, I won’t ever forget the time he drove eight hours to my dorm just to take me out to dinner on my birthday even though he had work the next morning. Or the time I was studying abroad in France and realized I was about to run out of money because I hadn’t brought enough for the trip. He didn’t even ask or scold me for bad planning, just transferred money to my account with no strings attached.
In all this, there was always something that stood out above all the other things: the way he prayed. I had always assumed the typical folded hands, bowed head, and closed eyes position like what was expected. But from him, I learned that it didn’t matter where you were or what you were doing, you could always pray. He never told me that, I just noticed. From beautiful sunsets to making it home safe in a snowstorm, God was always praised. Numerous times we’ve been on the road and have heard him say, “Thank you God for this sky You’ve painted for us.” He always pointed out things to thank God for, things to pray for. We were never required to close our eyes, fold hands, or make any other gestures. Sure, this was something we naturally did at the dinner table, but it all felt more natural than the original way I had learned growing up. At that, he did encourage alone time to pray separate from others. It’s not like we were eyes-open-pray-out-loud zealots. He had this prayer thing down.
At church, I look around and see other people with their toddlers and small children grasping their little hands and forcing them to assume emoji hands. It looks real cute when they start folding hands and bowing their heads on their own. But I realized I never did this with my daughter and she wasn’t sure what was even going on.
We do “call and repeat” prayer. I have acquired MANY baby, toddler, and child devotionals over the years. Each of these has simple to say prayers. I read each line, or if the line is long just a few words, then my daughter repeats as we go. I point to each word as we say it. This helps to promote early literacy through an interest in reading. What’s more, it promotes free and open prayer to God; the idea that God is always listening and prayer can happen at any time, not just when our hands are folded, eyes closed, and head is bowed. I also don’t stick to a strict devotional schedule. We have a morning devo and a “goodnight” themed devo, but we also read children’s bibles and stories throughout the day. I would recommend a schedule if you aren’t home all day like I am (I’m a VIPKID teacher, so my work is at home). A schedule on the work days will help you remember to make time for praying together, but morning and night with random times on the weekend will help them to think “Hmm, maybe mom and dad do this all day long?”
I’m not saying teaching prayer in other methods is wrong. To each their own, as long as you teach the same general pattern that Jesus taught us in the Bible. That being said, I was at a gathering a while back and witnessed the preacher of that church (a church I don’t go to) force his 2-year-old-son to grasp his hands together and then jerked his little head down into a bow. The boy was miserable. Now, I’m not here to judge, but statistics show that when you force your children to do things in a harsh manner that’s borderline abusive… they grow up to hate it. This was a wake-up call to me that I don’t suck as a Christian mom and perhaps my daughter is not a heathen because she isn’t yet a full participant in organized church prayer. I know far too many people from “Christian” homes who grew up to be Atheists because of the way they were treated at home. Even I struggled with my faith at first because I grew up in a loud, angry, constantly yelling household.
Ephesians 6:4 Amplified Bible (AMP)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Once again, if you’ve required your child to fold hands, I’m not saying you are wrong. However, I absolutely don’t feel guilty for my 2-year-old girl’s “call and repeat” prayers at home, or that she copies mommies shouts of “Hallelujah, a round of dishes are done.” As my girl makes toddler-church-friends, she is starting to copy their actions. This includes watching as the other children bow and fold hands. She is starting to join the crowd, even though most toddlers don’t have a grasp on what’s happening yet. I pray that she always keeps her mind stayed on the Lord and will learn to pray without ceasing.