by Dana Kennamer, PhD
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6 (NLT)
This is what we want for all of our children – that God’s peace will guard them and comfort them and that they will live in Jesus. And like us, they often need words to help them. This was true for Jesus’ apostles as well when they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).
I have a deep love for children’s books and often find that books written for children are filled with messages that grownups need as well. In this journey of conversations with our loving God, I have discovered some of lovely books that provide language for our prayers with and for our children. I hope that they bless you as well.
“Lord, teach us to pray . . .”
Let’s begin with two books that help us live into the prayer Jesus provided his apostles. At my church and all around the world, this prayer is spoken every week. We know these words. And still this is a living prayer – one that we will always be learning how to embody as we join the breaking in of God’s kingdom.
In the first book, Tim Ladwig’s illustrates the Lord’s Prayer by depicting a little girl and her father interacting with an older neighbor. His paintings beautifully and simply tell a story of how the Lord’s Prayer calls us to live into the words of Jesus, joining him in the longing for the kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Rainer Oberthur begins his book, Our Father, with God’s invitation to tell God “anything and everything.” Then he guides us through the individual phrases from the Lord’s Prayer, providing a simple prayer for each one. For example, through “hallowed be thy name” the reader is guided in prayer to speak many of the names of God and claim the truth that God knows our names as well. The prayer for “forgive us our trespasses” leads us to confession and the prayer for “deliver us from evil” names that God’s strength is greater than the evil in the world. This book calls us to think in new ways about the words many of us have spoken more times than we can count.
“.. at all times and on every occasion.” Ephesians 6:18
There is nothing we cannot bring in prayer. God invites us to pray at all times – good times and bad times. We are invited to bring all worries, fears, joys, sorrows and questions to God. Through Jesus, we know we have a God who took on skin, a God who comes close. The following two books provide children and adults alike with prayers for all of these times in our lives.
In her book, Prayers for Young Children, Martina Steinkuhler provides simple and honest prayers for common childhood experiences like loneliness at school, fear in new situations, and waking up grumpy. There are also prayers about joy and celebration, loss and regret. She provides children with language to doubt – to sit with God in our questions. And she provides beautiful prayers of amazement as we are overwhelmed by God’s creation. This book is indeed a treasure.
A Child’s First Book of Prayers by Lois Rock is my personal favorite, though I do love all of these books. She includes prayers for many of our collective concerns -- the homeless, those affected by crime, those who live in war zones and refugees. Her prayers provide words for our personal concerns with bullies, with friends who let us down, and when we fight with siblings. There are prayers of praise and gratitude for simple things, the beauty of nature and people who show kindness. One of my favorite prayers is a brief two sentences. “Dear God, When I don’t know the right answer, please help me ask the right question.” Such a wise prayer in this gentle book of deep faith!
“Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” Psalm 4:1
The book of Psalms is such a gift! In this ancient collection of songs our Father invites us and equips us to speak truth in our communication with God. I love to enter the Psalms with children using a wonderful strategy from Karen Henley, the author of The Beginner’s Bible. We read aloud words from a psalm and then I ask the children, “What was the psalmist feeling?” They name emotions of joy, sadness, anger, fear, rejection, and loneliness. Then we lift our hands as if holding something and say together, “God, sometimes I feel sad. When I feel sad, I will give that to you and trust you anyway.”
Through many times in my own life, the Psalms have given me words for prayer when I had none of my own. When my daughter was just eight and adjusting to a new home without her father living with us, we found Psalm 27. We wrote the words and posted them on her wall to remind us that we would “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” This prayer held us and helped us “take courage and wait for the Lord.”
In Psalms For Young Children Marie-Helene Delval provides simplified paraphrases of praise, sadness, gratitude and fear.
Delval’s version of Psalm 27 also claims the courage my daughter and I needed when our new family reality felt sad and scary.
God, you protect me.
You are the shining light in the darkness.
With you, I am not scared.
I want to live in your house, God.
I want you to teach me the right way to live.
May God bless you and the children you join on this journey of faith as you approach God together in confidence, knowing that “anything we ask according to his will, he hears us.” I John 15:4
Dana Kennamer, PhD, is Associate Dean and professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Abilene Christian University. She serves on the board of the Children's Spirituality Summit.