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Afraid of the Dark – Praying with Children

Did I just hear one of my boys call my name?

I look at my clock with blurry vision.  3:54am.

“Mummy”, I hear Jake call in a shaky voice.

I get out of bed and pad down the hallway to his bedroom.

“I’m scared”, he murmurs when I reach him.

I crawl into bed with Jake and asked him about his fears.

 

Bad dreams, fires and intruders have been his main concerns lately.  One evening, as we were putting our boys to bed, my husband had to take him downstairs to show him that the front door was securely locked and there was no way for someone to get into the house.  Last week, I had to reassure him that our smoke alarms are loud enough to wake us if they go off while we’re asleep.  But I know that, when we’re in a state of fear, we are unable to be reasoned with.  Our brains have been hijacked by our fear, unable to gauge the unlikeliness of the possibilities that terrify us.

As I held Jake, I remembered the terror I used to feel as a child, lying in my bed, listening to the sounds of the house, convinced that someone had found a way inside.  In the dark, my imagination was my worst enemy.

Even at forty years old, the dark still has a way of bringing out my fears.

I listened to Jake until he felt he’d told me enough about his scary dream then I just lay with him, chatting a little.

After ten minutes, it was time to extract myself.  Remembering my own childhood middle-of-the-night anxiety, I wanted to hold Jake ‘til morning so he could relax and fall asleep in a sense of safety.  But I knew that this wasn’t going to be the first time he’d need me to comfort him in the dark and I didn’t want to set a precedence for sleeping night after night squeezed into his single bed together.  I told him he could leave his lamp on for the rest of the night if he liked and suggested he read for a while to make his eyes tired.  I also reminded him that, at any time, he can choose his thoughts and that maybe he’d like to have a happy memory or wish ready to think about whenever scary thoughts come to mind.

But I felt helpless.  I couldn’t make his fear go away.  I couldn’t tell him for certain that, if he fell back to sleep, the bad dream wouldn’t come back.  Or that we will never have a fire in our house.  Or that someone unwanted won’t ever find their way in.

So I offered to do for Jake what I do for myself when my fears are running amok.

“Would you like me to say a prayer with you?” I asked.

Jake nodded.

I began my prayer by asking that Jake be protected from bad dreams, fires and intruders.  But I realised that this prayer would not be enough to settle Jake’s mind.  For, while we can tell God/The Universe what we’d like, we cannot tell It what to do.  So I continued my prayer by asking for Jake to know that God is always with him and for his scary thoughts to leave him alone, replaced by happier ones.  Essentially, it was a prayer for him to see things differently – without fear – one I’ve learned from A Course in Miracles.

“Does that help?” I asked, uncertainly.

Jake smiled and nodded.

I didn’t know if Jake experiences relief through handing things over in prayer like I do but, the next morning he said to me, “can I call you in the middle of the night whenever I get scared and we can say a prayer together?”

“Of course”, I said.  “Anytime”.

 

CONCLUSION – PRAYING WITH CHILDREN

Spirituality without a Higher Power of some sort is kind of in-vogue at the moment.  The power of the Self is revered – inner strength and manifesting etc.  And, yes, we are magnificent, powerful beings.  But that magnificence is God-given, an extension of Himself within us and, when our humanity is not enough to get us through the situation before us, we can call on that magnificence for help.  Not necessarily to rearrange the chess pieces of our lives to our liking but to rearrange our thoughts for Love and peace.  Time and time again, I have found this prayer – to see things differently – to be the most powerful one I say, easing fears of every variety.

Turning to prayer for support is a relatively new idea for my boys.  Our prayers are normally of thanks and for guidance.  (You may find this essay about introducing our children to prayer helpful)  But I want my boys to know that The Universe is a friendly place, unfailingly supportive of them, even when they are feeling most confused and vulnerable.  Praying is an act of faith, an acknowledgement that, while I don’t see the big picture right now, I trust that the intentions of The Universe are wise and loving.  If my boys know that I am willing to lean on that understanding, maybe they will know that they can lean on it also.  This is the gift that I hope to have given Jake that dark night.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Introducing Our Children to Prayer

Our spirituality is ultimately about our relationship with Life.  Any relationship requires communication.  I want my boys to know they can tell the Universe whatever is on their mind so I am gently introducing them to prayer.  The Universe is always on our side, even when we don’t pray, but prayer helps us to be bigger participants in the unfolding of our lives.

 

WHAT IS PRAYER & WHO ARE WE PRAYING TO?

For me, prayer is an invitation, an opening up to the Divine.  The Divine will work in our lives as much as we allow it to.

A prayer can be offered through our words (written & spoken), actions or thoughts.  They all count.  Essentially, we pray with our spirit so it doesn’t matter which form a prayer takes.  This blog post is more about prayer expressed in words as that is the variety most visable to our children so easiest to share with them.

In our house, we usually address our prayers to God, using the word in a non-traditional sense.  Really, any word would do – the Universe, the Divine, Spirit, Source… My understanding of God changes constantly, getting less and less precise over time, but I don’t think that really matters.  He/She/It/They know I’m talking to them when I pray, even if I can’t fully imagine all that they are.  (You may be interested in my post Introducing my Children to God.)

 

TYPES OF PRAYER

I want Jake and Thomas to realise that they can talk to God in any situation, for any reason so I’m trying to offer them different types of prayer.  Keeping it simple, these are the three we usually use –

Gratitude – Prayers of gratitude are an easy place to start.  Sometimes, when I’m with my boys and I think of something I’m grateful for, I’ll just say thank you for it aloud eg. “Thank you for the beautiful sunshine today”.  We also take turns saying grace before a meal, using the words my boys learned at their kindergarten.  (To be honest, they fight over whose turn it is to say grace and it doesn’t always feel very sincere.)  My post on Gratitude talks about the benefits of gratitude and other ways of expressing it.

Intention  –  In these prayers, we share our intentions – such as for dreams to be realised and problems solved.  They may be for ourselves or for others.  Of Course, God already knows what our intentions are but, through these prayers, we open ourselves up to receiving the help we need.

Chat – For me, prayer is an on-going conversation.  Sometimes, I just find myself with something to say and I know God is listening so I start talking.  When I’m in the car alone, I talk to God as if he were sitting in the passenger seat.  I talk about anything, knowing that I am heard and that He is the best listener of all.

 

THE NATURE OF PRAYER

I don’t think the words we use in prayer are important but it is interesting to look at the meaning of Amen.  It is a way of saying “Your will be done”.  For me, that means trusting that God hears and cares about my desires & concerns.  It also means that He sees the big picture that I can’t and will do what is best for everyone, for the highest good.  Prayer is said in faith and we can let go once we’ve said what we have to say.  When I was younger, I used to pray over the same things repeatedly.  God heard the first time – it must have been so annoying!  Once said, it’s said!  We can trust that things will turn out for the greatest good.

 

When things we have prayed about don’t appear to go our way, it is not an answered prayer.  When I was a teacher, I had to put the good of the whole class over the needs of an individual at times.  God has the same task but with billions of people to look out for – what a job!  There have been times when things haven’t gone the way I had planned but there have been unexpected gifts in the seemingly unwanted outcome.  There have been times when, later, I have been able to see that it is a good thing I didn’t get what I prayed for!  Sometimes, I can’t see why things didn’t go as I had asked and I have faith that it was still a good thing.  And sometimes I just wake up the next day feeling differently, able to see the situation I’d prayed for with greater Love – my answer was simply a new way of seeing things.

 

WAYS TO PRAY WITH OUR CHILDREN

Here are some gentle ways I’ve been introducing prayer to my children.

Invite them to listen in on my prayers – This was my first step. For example, an ambulance would go whizzing by when we were in the car and I would say a short prayer aloud.  When my husband was going into hospital for a small surgery, my boys listened while I said a prayer for my husband and the medical staff.  Jake and Thomas always say an enthusiastic “Amen!” at the end.

Provide a script – Particularly for young children, it is hard to come up with the words for what they have to say.  Some of our prayers use the same words each time to make them easier for my boys to say, such as our grace and our morning prayer.  Both prayers are short with child-friendly language.

Offer for them to add bits – Usually I say our morning prayer aloud and my boys listen.  Often, before beginning, I ask if there’s anything they’d like included, perhaps something they’re worried about or looking forward to.  So far, I add these things in myself for them but, in time, I think they’ll want to say them themselves.

God Box – (It could be called anything.  Use the language that works for your family).  Currently, I initiate most of our prayers.  When my boys are starting to suggest their own, this is an idea I’d like to try.  They can write or draw their prayer on a piece of paper and post it into their box.  The act of posting it is their “Amen”, their letting go and trusting.  Every now-and-then, they may like to review the notes in their box to see what has happened since.

Remind them that they can talk to God anytime, about anything – If our children are aware that we do this, it will be normal for them.  I say a lot of spontaneous prayers and will often say them aloud with my boys if I’m happy for them to hear what I have to say.

 

IN SUMMARY – WHY PRAY?

When I pray with Jake and Thomas, I invite them to participate but never insist.  Interestingly, so far they have always chosen to join in.  The words we use aren’t important, the only rule being it must be respectful – God has no interest in the toilet talk that litters their usual conversation when they think I’m out of ear shot.

I recently re-watched Rob Bell’s humorous and powerful talk on Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions.  He said that most of his prayers go like this – “Here, you take it”.  Knowing we don’t have to figure it all out or do it all on our own is so comforting and freeing.  Our prayers are an acknowledgement of this.  This is the main reason I want to share the practice of prayer with my boys.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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