Praying with Kids: Permission. Play. Praise. Practice.

There are few people I’d be willing to lead me up Masada, sail the Sea of Galilee, crawl through the FullSizeRender-290x300aqueducts at Qumran, and climb Mt. Carmel with than Cayce Harris. Cayce is a woman with a deep faith & love for God and a heart of wisdom that knows no ends. I’m grateful for her friendship & leadership. Cayce is the Director of Ministries at Christ Healing Center. She and her husband, Joel, have 4 children with another on the way. The fruits of Cayce’s prayer life are evident in her work, her family & in all of her life. I’m so grateful she is willing to share with us even in the midst of morning sickness. May you be blessed today by Cayce Harris. Welcome, Cayce.

I love it when kids bow their heads and say amazing sweet, simple prayers with their hands folded and their bodies still. But let’s be honest, while it’s tender when it happens – most kids are all over the place most of the time. Activity and noise define what my kids are doing almost always.

I want my kids to learn to be still and listen – and they will learn that, there’s time for that. Even more so, I want my kids to live a life-style of prayer. I want them to know that because of Jesus’ incredible love for them, they have access. Access to GOD – the God who made it all. They can access Him as much as they want – there is no limit. There’s no such thing as too much or too often. There are no boundaries when it comes to their relationship with God and by extension, their prayer life.

How do we foster this as adults who sometimes require stillness and a 3 point lesson to feel connected to God?

PERMISSION. One of the most effective ways to break the ice with kids, especially the ones who aren’t very interested in bowing their heads and saying things they’re uncertain of, is to give permission to “their way.” Tell them that bowing their heads is awesome, but it’s just one way to pray – they can pray just by thinking, they can pray when they’re playing, they can pray when they’re running, dancing, and drawing. Prayer is simple – it’s just talking to God about anything and everything, at any time.

PLAY. The stories of our faith almost all have to do with action. Real life drama. Seas part. Creation swirls into being. A bush burns. Families travel. Waters are calmed. Fish are caught. Dead people come back to life. These things all involve “Action” – the biggest action adventures the world of kids happens around play.

Playing, painting, singing, role play are all ways that kids express themselves and you better believe that Jesus loves to interact with us through these things. We get the opportunity to help kids become aware that in and through those things – they can talk and interact with God.

lovepainting1

Joseph, an 8 year old boy came to our worship service reluctantly. His mom was very worried about some fears he had been expressing. His sorrow seemed too heavy for an 8 year old to bear. Joseph’s mom wanted prayer but he just wanted to hide behind his mom’s leg and whimper. “Prayer” as he thought it was coming at him was not something he was excited about.

Me: “Hi, what’s your name?”

Joseph: Silence

Joseph’s mom: “His name is Joseph. He’s really sad and says he hates himself.”

Me: “Joseph, how old are you?”

Joseph: Silence

(Here’s the beginning of permission giving)

Me: “Hey Joseph, I have crayons and paints in the back of the room, you want to come draw a picture with me?”

Joseph’s eyes peak out, his countenance shifts to comfortable kid.

Joseph: “Yeah, I want to paint!”

Me: “Great, come on! The cool thing about God is that He’s always talking with us and playing with us, you don’t have to bow your head to pray – we can actually talk to God – that’s what praying is – through your painting. You want to try? It’s really fun.”

Joseph: “Ok.” He picks his paints and paper.

We crouch on the ground together.

Me: “Ok – God talks back to us in our thoughts – ask Him to give you a picture (in your mind) to draw of what you’re feeling. Then you draw the idea or words or picture that comes to your mind.”

Joseph: Immediately draws a picture of the loss of his loved one that was making him so sad. He writes on the back, “I hate me.”

Joseph: “I’m so sad, so so sad.” His explanation was enough.

Me: “Joseph, I’m so proud of you for being so honest and telling God exactly how you feel. Would you want to put your picture into Jesus hands and ask Him what He thinks?”

Joseph: “Ok.” He carefully closes his eyes and holds the picture slightly up.

Me: “God is really good at taking the stuff that’s hard in our life and giving us good things back in return. Let’s ask Him for another picture to draw, but this time ask Him what He thinks and what He wants to give you in place of the sadness.”

Joseph: “Jesus what do I draw?” Artfully shortening the prayer and then drawing an incredible picture of himself surrounded by light in a completely protective bubble, outside of that was all red – which was Jesus’ blood.

Me: “Do you want to ask God what He thinks about you?”

Joseph: “He already told me, I’m brave!”

This may sound like an ideal scenario but let me tell you it wasn’t. There wasn’t a part of Joseph that was open at the beginning. He was intimidated by the “adult religious activity” happening around him but PLAY opened a door of simple, comfortable connection to God.

Joseph ran to show his mom his drawing. She praised him. “That’s so awesome babe!” We all cheered for him in our own little ways.

PRAISE. Encouragement to keep going is critical – our affirmation takes kids beyond their own self-doubt. When the internal dialogue inside might be saying, “I don’t know how to do this right,” our praise says, “You’re doing great!” and “You can do this!” Affirming the honesty in Joseph’s first drawing helped him keep going further with his conversation with God.

PRACTICE. Give kids a safe space to practice along the way. Lifestyle prayer practice happens best in the midst of life. When they are expressing feelings or concerns, it’s a great time to say – let’s ask Jesus what He thinks, then do it then and there. Tell them they can tell Him anything – He loves that. Tell them that love is our guideline – God’s voice always comes with love.

Giving permission, playing, praising and practicing intentionally with our kids in their daily lives can teach kids the simple practice of:

  1. Getting out what they are thinking TO GOD.
  2. Asking simple questions like, “Jesus, what do you think?”
  3. Listening for His answer.

(It helps to explain that He’ll answer in their thoughts right after they ask the question. Writing it down, sharing it or drawing it might help them hold on to what God’s saying.)

As they get older, it’s helpful to affirm that God’s voice to us will always be in line with the overarching story of God and His people; a story of love, redemption, community, healing and life. If it’s not in line with His love, it’s time to keep going in the conversation honestly – practicing and playing – with permission to not always get it the first time.

We want our kids to walk around knowing they CAN talk to God anytime, and He’s truly right there – fully accessible – talking right back.

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