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Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep…and Other Ways NOT to Teach Your Children How to Pray

How to move from teaching your children rote prayers to helping them engaging in a conversation with God.

Just this morning at breakfast, I was reminded about the importance of teaching our kids that prayer is simply talking to God. I want my three children to learn to speak to God as a friend by using simple, conversational language.

The problem is that we often get stuck teaching them to recite simple mealtime and bedtime prayers. It’s not an easy habit to break because we’ve been passing these prayers down to our kids for generations. Let’s take a quiz to see if you can still remember them today. What is the most recited prayer before mealtime? That’s right, “God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food.” And what about bedtime? Right again, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Apparently the pronunciation of “good” & “food” rhymed during the Renaissance and nothing says “sweet dreams” like a prayer about dying in your sleep.

At first, pronouncing “God is great, God is good…” before downing a bowl of Frosted Flakes or reciting “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep…” while being tucked into bed may be just fine. Let’s face it; they are cute, catchy, and easy to remember. The problem is that our kids can say them from rote memory without even thinking.

Instead of rote prayers, Nicole and I are trying to teach our three kids to talk to God in their own words by asking two simple questions, “What do you want to thank God for?” and “How do you want God to help you?”

Thank you God for… I want my children to understand that “every good and perfect gift comes from above”. I want to instill in them an attitude of gratitude by teaching them to thank God for what has occurred in their day. Thankfulness is a natural expression of love. Gratitude flows from a sense of devotion. By teaching our kids to be thankful, we are showing them the many ways God loves them and how to express their love and devotion back to God.

God, help me… Asking God for help is one of the ways we are training our kids to depend on God. It shows them that they need His help to obey people in authority over them, forgive their friends and siblings, and be all that God wants them to be. By asking for help, our kids are learning that God is trustworthy and It reminds them that God is concerned with every detail of their life.

Prayer is foundational for our kids' relationship with God. It is one of the primary ways they connect with God. Prayer teaches them to depend on Him and it develops their faith. I simply want my children to talk to God in their own way and know that He hears them. I want to help them move beyond rote prayers by asking God for help and thanking God for what He has done.

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Bob Roska June 03, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Good point, Eric and excellent article. When we ask my 92-year old father to pray before a meal he prays, "Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed", because that's the only prayer he's known his whole life. He's been going to church every Sunday for eight decades and no one ever taught him how to pray. It's sad. He says he's too old to learn now.
Eric Echols June 03, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Bob, thanks for the comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. It is so hard to break the habit of rote prayers and move to more conversational prayer in our relationship with God.
Guest June 07, 2012 at 06:16 PM
I've never left a comment on an article before but felt this was really important to share. Do not give up on rote prayers - sometimes they are a real blessing when you need to start a conversation with God. My own experience is that my mother who is 97 and had Alzheimers seemed so far gone that I did not know how to reach her with a conversation about God. Was she so far gone that I would have no assurance that she still knew God? I thought so. We have started to pray the "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer and she comes to God each night as a child, the way we all should. Although she no longer knows who I am sometimes she still connects with God. And she taught me another line. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take, and this I ask for Jesus' sake. I just wanted to share. Thanks!

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