To be honest, I am a bit nervous about this post. Like, I just inhaled an entire bag of pretzel M&Ms in 30 seconds flat, nervous. It’s not because I don’t believe this concept to my core, because I do. It is because careful consideration of our bedtime prayer routine with our girls led me to a deep revelation that I did not expect. It, without announcement or fanfare, flung open a door in my heart and shone the light of truth in an otherwise undisturbed and unchallenged corner. And as we all know, before we can truly accept and absorb new truth, we have to dislodge and banish the old lies that have been taking up that precious bit of space. This is how it happened for me . . .
My husband and I have always taken our children’s bedtime routine seriously, realizing how much little ones thrive on structure, and wanting to model the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. All in all, this was a time in each day that we looked forward to, enjoying the meaningful connection and, or course, the snuggling. Occasionally there would be a question that went something like this: ” Mommy, we asked Jesus to give me good dreams, but I had bad ones. Why did he do that?” Or, “Mommy, we asked God to keep me safe, but I still fell off my bike and got owies all over my legs. Why didn’t he keep me from falling?” These questions were coming from sincere hearts who were trying to reconcile what they had been told so many times about God – that He loves them, has a good plan for them, and is the most powerful being alive, and yet who seems to simultaneously let a lot of bad things happen.
At first, I didn’t handle this in an award winning fashion. I tried to reason with them. I said things that, while they were true, were not helpful. “God didn’t give you that bad dream sweetie. He only gives good gifts.” And, “God didn’t push you off your bike. You just fell. It was an accident. And he may have protected you from getting a much worse owie, like a broken bone.” Like I said, these are true statements, but they did not address the questions that were truly troubling them . . .
“Is God REALLY as good as you say he is?” “Can I trust him?” “Why do I pray if it doesn’t change anything?”
Cue the crickets . . .
In hindsight, I can see that I avoided addressing these core questions because there was something unresolved in my own heart. In some areas, I was still asking the very same questions.
This began a season of soul searching for me. I did not want to raise kids who were so dependent on their earthly circumstances that it shaped how they viewed God. I took a good, hard look at our bedtime prayers. And in just the right way and time, as only the Holy Spirit can do, I felt him gently ask me, “Do you notice how much direction you give me on how to take care of you and your children?”
I mentally replayed a typical bedtime prayer I would say over my daughters in that season of life . . .
“Dear God, thank you for this day (okay, starting off with thankfulness should be pretty good). Please give Olivia lots of good rest tonight and happy dreams. Help her body to fight off all the nasty cold and flu germs going around. Bring her a special friend at school that she really enjoys. And help her do well on her spelling test tomorrow. Keep all our family and friends safe and healthy. We love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
In a moment of clarity, I could see that I had unknowingly been giving my young child a nightly measuring stick to grade the performance of God with. Sandwiched between a “thank you” and “love you” was my list of instruction to God about how he should take care of Olivia. I closed my eyes and imagined myself in my daughter’s shoes, struggling to understand a concept as abstract as an invisible God, and asked myself what I would visualize as that prayer was prayed over me.
In my mind’s eye I saw God as a giant vending machine in the sky. As the requests were listed, I saw my daughter press the “no bad dreams” button, the “no cold and flu” button, and so on, as the requests were made. I realized that even as an adult I would not return to a vending machine over and over again unless it was spitting out the exact product that I wanted. I repented and asked the Lord to lead me to a new way of praying for my kids, especially at bedtime, that would inspire and prepare them for a deeply rooted faith that was not dependent on their circumstances in life, but on the unchanging, never stopping love and faithfulness of God.
It didn’t happen overnight; old habits are hard to break. But once I made a commitment to pray the character of God over my children rather than circumstances, I found it not only easy, but encouraging and inspiring. I found that more and more often we were discussing the bigness and goodness of God, so much so that one of our favorite lines has become, “God, we just can’t make you good enough or big enough!” My hope and belief is that I am painting such a lovely (and accurate) picture of the face of God that on that day when then Holy Spirit draws them to a place of personal revelation, and they choose which master they will serve, it will be an easy decision.
Because who wouldn’t want to serve a God who is THAT BIG and THAT GOOD?
My encouragement to you is this: ask the Lord to help you discern the picture of God you are offering to your little ones at the closing of each day, just before they drift off into slumberland. Do you need to lead them in disconnecting the circumstances of life from the character of God? Are you inadvertently raising circumstance junkies? Where else, other than bedtime prayers, is there an opportunity to point out a display of God’s great love, faithfulness, kindness, compassion or mercy?
Now, is there a time to ask for what we think we need? Of course! The Bible specifically addresses this in terms of sickness. When someone in our family becomes ill, or we become aware of a need for healing, we stop and pray for them right then. If we realize one of us has wronged another, we try to stop and ask for forgiveness at that moment. But I no longer save these things for bedtime. I do not want the last thing on their minds to be some area of actual or perceived lack, raising their anxiety level while at the same time asking them to feel relaxed and safe. I want my little ones to drift off peacefully, being regularly reminded of the faithful God we serve, who is even now watching carefully over their hearts and lives.
I confess, I am a women of practicality. I appreciate new ideas and the analysis of theories, but give me practical application if you want me to make a real and lasting change. So, in the spirit of practicality, here are a few examples of what it looks like to focus on praying the character of God over our young ones rather than allowing circumstances of this life to take center stage.
LOSS OF JOB
Lord Jesus, you know Daddy needs a new job. We thank you that you already have the right job in mind, and while we are waiting, you will take good care of us. You are so faithful, and we are so glad we don’t have to worry.
Holy Spirit, I ask you to comfort Olivia in her disappointment over this situation. You know how it feels to be sad. Remind her that you will still take care of us, and we will be okay.
Lord, I thank you for the gift of Olivia. I thank you for choosing me to be her mom. Thank you for her strong and healthy body, her smart mind, her kindness and cooperative spirit. Thank you for sending me a daughter who encourages and helps me.
Lord, I see the gifts you have given Olivia. I see the mercy and compassion she has for others in need. I see how you’ve gifted her to be a friend to those who don’t have many friends, and how she notices when others need help or a hug. I see how she shares your love with others in this way.
Lord, I thank you that you have prepared a great life for Olivia, full of special things you planned just for her to do. I thank you that she has a purpose and a destiny. I am excited about the adventure ahead of her. And I thank you that Olivia is going to love and serve you all the days of her life.
Just remember, always character first. Either the character of God himself, or the Christlike character being formed within us as we look to him. The eternal always trumps the temporary.
So why was I nervous about this? Because to you, bedtime prayers may seem like such a small part of our parenting. And, in a sense, you would be right. I doubt anyone turned their child into a serial criminal by asking God for stuff. But there is no “little mission”. Even in this small act, we can make a significant and lasting deposit into our kids’ current and future relationships with Christ.