Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Teaching Our Children the Importance of Prayer

 “This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name:  ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’
~ Jeremiah 33:2-3, NIV~

It's a natural part of being a Christian parent.  We go through the ritual of prayer as a matter of course.  If our goal is to have our children's faith become their own, then we are deliberate about teaching our children why we pray and the importance of prayer at a young age.  But raising a child with special needs can certainly add a new twist to this esteemed duty of parenting.  Having two of three children with completely different special needs, I can tell you that there are different challenges to teaching a child with a chronic illness or physical disability the importance of prayer versus the challenges of teaching a child with cognitive or emotional diagnoses.  Allow me to illustrate by sharing with you the interesting journey I have traveled with my own children.

Our son's diagnosis of severe hemophilia at birth in 2000 immediately impressed upon me the critical nature of prayer in his life.  Knowing that his disorder could, at times, be life-threatening, there was no second thought that his only hope would be found in the Lord.  From the second I first cradled him in my arms, I modeled prayer by praying over him and for him.  I would fold his chubby little baby hands and pray with him in just the same way I did with my eldest child, but there was a difference.  Before he would receive one of his thousands of intravenous needle pokes, we would pray for help, comfort and success before the infusion.  With something this central to the core of his life, the importance of speaking to Jesus through prayer was more implied than taught.  

I find it hard to talk about teaching my children the importance of prayer without also talking about introducing them to God's word.  Sharing the Bible was an essential part of my children's spiritual growth from the day they were born as well.  Beginning with age appropriate cloth baby books, then board books and so forth, we spent time reading Bible verses together daily, until my children could read on their own.  We would study both at the breakfast table and in our homeschooling.  My insights, coupled with practical lessons made God's love letter come alive for all of us.  

Naturally, this Bible reading led to teaching the kids to pray Scripture.  Returning to my son's prayer before infusing, I will tell you that years of crises and pain have left him with great anxiety.  But even so, he goes through a ritual of visualization praying, "I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength, " (Philippians 4:13) calming himself to press on through difficulty.  And when life gets to be too much for a young man of his tender age, I have heard him crying for Jesus' return.

While our son's prayer life is a powerful story in and of itself, our youngest daughter's development has been no less inspiring.  Hers was a high risk pregnancy, requiring me to be off my feet for the final four months of gestation.  It was a tumultuous time, but God grew me in mighty ways.  Transformed to be the mother of this treasure, prayer is the only thing that has carried us through raising this unique girl.  From early on, while appearing otherwise typical, I couldn't use a toilet without her taking off through the neighborhood wearing nothing but a diaper.  She suffered from ear infections that repeatedly ended with severe allergic reactions to the antibiotics prescribed.  There were times when I frankly thought I would lose my mind.

Her spiritual formation was challenging.  Because of her diagnosis, our daughter has difficulty with "theory of mind" or the ability to see things from another person's viewpoint.  She can also be somewhat "flat" with certain emotional responses.  So often, I wondered if anything was sinking in.  She is bashful about praying out loud and because of her severe ADHD which cannot be treated with medications, her Bible reading is mostly distracted.   Persistence and adaptation were the key to teaching this precious daughter the importance of prayer.  If it meant we had to keep it short, we kept it short.  If we had to move, we danced.  Music especially appealed to her, so we sang.

At a young age, she asked to be baptized.  I wrestled with allowing her to do so.  My concern?  I didn't think I was seeing fruit.  We would study the Bible, pray together, and then she would haul off and hit her brother or sister.  I finally got on the phone and talked to my friend, Dr. Steve Grcevich, hoping for some wisdom to give me clarity.  He tested my thoughts, like a good brother in Christ would do.  "Did you instantly produce fruit when you received Jesus as your Savior?"  Suddenly, my concerns seemed foolish.  After discussing it further, I made the decision to let her be baptized.

Since that time, her faith life has grown richer.  The endless questions that come from her less-than-typical brain leave me in awe.  What amazement to see God reach a child with cognitive and emotional challenges in a unique way!  She bows deeply in prayer at dinner, and brings her prayer concerns to her family.  It may be bullying because of her differences at school.  It may be a wounded animal.  But she knows that the One she wants to flee to with her concerns is Jesus.  And she thanks Him for things the rest of us might take for granted.

The bottom line is that prayer is an essential part of an intimate, conversational relationship with our Maker.  Teaching my children that has been one of the highest callings of my life.  Whether our children are verbal or non-verbal, fully mobile or physically challenged, God wants to engage His precious creations in a unique way.  No one knows your child like you do.  Find that special something that connects them in a remarkable and special way to their Only Hope.  Model, read the Bible together, pray Scripture together, persevere and adapt.  You will never spend your time more wisely.

PRAY:  “Lord, teach us to pray..."  (Luke 11:1)  And Father, make me a good steward of the precious child You have given me.  Thank You for the privilege of teaching my child the importance of prayer.

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