Monday, October 31, 2011

Do we have to teach prayer?

 Photo Credit:

For adults, prayer is sometimes taken for granted. Yes really- sometimes we take for granted that we know what to do when we make mistakes and need forgiveness, when we are fearful and don't know which way to go, when we are hurting and need comfort. We become silent, shut out the world for a few moments and visit the inner peace that God has bestowed upon each of us.

But is this knowledge innate? Are we born knowing how to seek this solace and ask for God's peace? I don't claim to know the answer to that question, but what I have found, in my own experience, to be true is that children benefit from some guidance when it comes to prayer. I believe that children in some ways are closest to God thanks to their innocence and naivete, but I don't forget that part of my job as a parent is to prepare my children for adulthood, even now when they are still children.

To me, instruction on how God wants us to pray, and how we can use prayer to gain access to our inner connection with God and His will, is a valuable tool for children to have as they seek to know God throughout their lives. As Episcopalians we are called to use Scripture, tradition, and our own reason and insight to live godly lives. What kind of parent would I be if I didn't help to prepare my children for that journey by teaching them how to pray for strength, mercy, grace, and guidance?

So, when I find resources which lend themselves to teaching children about the art of prayer, I get excited about it and want to share!  I found a great free printable resource over at Homeschool Creations today. While the pack isn't specifically Episcopal, I really liked the author's presentation. Here's the link:

Good luck!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Is there anything too small?

Earlier today I was helping my son, age 4, to open a fruit roll up that his auntie bought him and I was having a difficult time doing it. The candy was so sticky that it wouldn't even roll off the cellophane wrapper and my son was desperate for the whole thing to be unrolled without a tear. I worked on it for a minute or so and then resigned, telling my son matter-of-factly that I wasn't going to be able to pull the candy off in one whole piece.

"You can do it, Mom!" His sure little voice replied. "Anything is possible with Jesus! Just ask him for help!"

Well. I didn't see that coming. I probably should have told him that he was right, and said a little prayer right then and there, not just for a safe delivery of the fruit roll up out of its wrapper, but also of thanks for my son's insight into the things that really matter.

I didn't though. I giggled a little and told my son that Jesus was probably helping others with bigger problems and maybe we shouldn't bother him with our small challenge. My son accepted this statement readily enough because by this time he had his candy in hand and was on to other tasks. I'm sure he's forgotten about the whole exchange by now. But I haven't.

I missed out on an opportunity here. In the classroom we called these opportunities "teachable moments," and they were the most powerful teaching tool we had. These were the moments when a child opened himself up and allowed you to see into this thoughts and his heart; when he asked you a genuine question simply out of interest or shared a personal insight, and allowed you to teach him something through his own experience. I realized- too late- that such an opportunity had passed me by today, although it wasn't what my professors in grad school might have intended when they taught me this concept.

Today it wasn't about what I should have been teaching my son; it was the reverse. My son taught me today. He reminded me that God knows all of our struggles- even our little ones. He reminded me that it's never a bad time to pray for grace, even if it is only to handle a difficult candy wrapper. We should, as believers, put our faith in Him and remember to ask for help when we need it because no man, woman, or child lives life alone. It is all to easy to fall into the trap of self-importance, but in reality it is through humility and prayer that we become great, because it is through these things that we realize our true purpose in life.

Sometimes it just takes a child- and his candy wrapper- to remind us of what is truly important, and that nothing is too small to ask God for help.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Religious Guilt?

 photo credit:

A friend recently told me that she was amazed that I brought my children to church. According to her, she chose not to include her children in a religious community because she feared the "guilt thing." I've heard it before, but I asked her to explain. "Oh you know," she began, leaning closer and whispering conspiratorially, "I don't want my kids to think that everything they do is wrong, and that they are inherently bad. They're good kids- they don't deserve to live life feeling guilty about every little thing they do." At the time, I simply nodded as if I understood and the conversation moved on, but I couldn't get the thought out of my mind. It kept coming back to me, and I replayed the conversation in my head over and over and over. Why didn't I feel that way? Was there truth to my friend's concern?

After mulling the conversation over for a couple of days, I finally emerged with what I wished I had said to my friend at the time of the conversation. Religion isn't about guilt. I know that sometimes popular culture paints it that way, but truly it's quite the opposite. Here's why.

Because my family follows Christ and his teachings, we don't have to carry the guilt of our deeds around because we're forgiven. It's not about guilt at all; it's about forgiveness and freedom from guilt! The Christian faith isn't about making people feel badly about their sins, and making them carry the pain of transgression around for a lifetime. Rather it is about encouraging people to seek God no matter what their past deeds are and where they are in life so that they may be freed from the guilt of sin and the terrible feelings it causes within us. Christianity offers it's patrons an unbelievable gift: the ability to lift the guilt we experience by confessing when we've made mistakes and continuing to improve ourselves. How could such a gift possibly foster or encourage guilt or shame in children?

Indeed, in my own life I have struggled tremendously with guilt relating to past deeds. Anything short of perfection seemed to be unforgivable in my mind, and I have spent a tremendous- ridiculous- amount of time dealing with that issue. Ironically, it wasn't until I became an adult Christian that I began to forgive myself for mistakes I'd made in the past; it wasn't until I truly understood the power of Christ's love and his gift to his people that I began to view myself differently. I wasn't saddled with guilt over past failures and wrongdoings any longer, but rather was supported and enriched by those experiences because I began to view them as teaching experiences rather than indications of my lack of character. Jesus taught his disciples that they must seek God's forgiveness for wrongdoing and then learn from their mistakes so that they could lead more fully Christian and compassionate lives. Jesus offers us the same bargain: admit that you've done wrong, ask forgiveness, and be healed. Be cleaned. Be forgiven. Allow the guilt to melt away. There is nothing Christ denies us his forgiveness for, so long as we approach him with a heart intent upon learning to do better. What could be more pure and encouraging?

So, had I the moment to do over, I might have reacted differently to my friend's comment. I might have described for her the feeling of grace- the understanding that you are free from guilt because you follow Christ (and go to church), not suffering because of it. I might have shared with her that my children will learn the difference between right and wrong thanks to their spiritual training, but better yet- they will learn what to do about it. When they err, they will know to seek God's forgiveness and to use the experience to help them make different choices the next time they are presented with a similar situation. They will learn that when they know Christ has forgiven them, forgiving themselves is much simpler.  Likewise, they will learn that because we all share the human condition of imperfection, we must be quick to forgive others when they make mistakes which hurt us.

To me, this seems like an avenue of growth and prosperity, not one of pain and guilt. Perhaps that's the message I should have shared with my friend when I had the chance. But I won't waste time feeling guilty about it- now that I've had time to think about what I could have, and should have done, next time I'm presented with the chance I'll know what to say. And that, I think, is the point.