“How do I teach my kids to pray in a way that doesn’t treat God as a genie and prayer as a kind of magic?” Fr. Geoffrey Brooke offers some answers in our new series, Brick by Brick with Fr. Brooke.
by Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr.
Peanut Butter & Grace is happy to launch the new series “Brick by Brick with Father Brooke.” The idea behind the series is to help provide parents with a “brick” each month via a question and answer video session that will help them to build up their domestic churches. Each video will be accompanied with a text article, just like this one here.
Each month I will focus on one question and attempt to provide some answers as to how you can teach that particular subject or issue to your children. I currently am finishing up a S.T.L. in fundamental theology; to learn more about me, be sure to check out my vocation story.
“How do I teach my child to pray so that God doesn’t turn into some sort of magician and then they lose their faith when he doesn’t answer their prayers?”
Demonstrate God’s Love in Your Relationship with Your Child
The easy or classic answer to a question of this nature sounds something like, “You have to teach them it’s a relationship.”
However, as adults, you all know that there exist good relationships and bad relationships. So the classic answer seems insufficient by itself, how can you go a little further? How can you start to help your children develop a healthy relationship with God?
The answer starts with the parents. As parents you are called to be the presence of God’s love to your children in a tangible way. Your relationship with your children is meant to demonstrate God’s love for them. If you want them to develop a good relationship with God, make sure you first grow in your parent-child relationship.
To be blunt, if you don’t want your kids to believe in a “genie” God, don’t be a “genie” parent!
Avoid being a “genie” parent
Start by asking yourself, “What kind of relationship do I have with my children?” Does it seem like all of your interactions are simply them asking you for things and favors? Do you feel like they just treat you as some sort of magical vending (or ATM) machine, that just provides whatever is asked for on command?
If you child sees you only as the one they go for to ask for things, and nothing else, how will that impact their image of God? If asking and receiving is the only understanding of their relationship with you as parents, then how are they supposed to see a relationship with God as something more?
What can you do about how you are parenting your children, and in turn structuring how they see their relationship with God?
Spend More Time Together
I know sometimes life is tough. And you want some alone time, and to a certain extent that is necessary. However, if every night when you get home from work you go off to another part of the house by yourself or with your spouse, then what happens? Your child will come to you when they need or want something. “Can I watch TV?” “Can I borrow the IPad?” “Can I have some money?,” etc. The physical distance becomes a distance in the relationship, which then affects the child’s understanding of God.
Eat Dinner Together
If you can, try eating dinner together every night. If not, as often as possible. Don’t bring your phones to the table either. When you’re at the table, ask your children about their day, learn about what’s going on in their lives. No, it might not always be the most interesting story, or the funniest joke, but show them you love them and care by taking the time to listen.
Think about it, we tell children, “God loves you, he cares for you personally, he is with you and listens to you.” If your child is to know that love of God, make sure they see it in you as well. Show them what it means to have someone who cares about them.
If you spend time with your child, does it mean they will stop asking you for things? No, of course not! However, when they do come to ask for things, they, and you, will see it as just an element of a caring and loving relationship.
Teach Your Child to Pray in Many Ways
This then extends as well to their relationship with God. There are a lot more ways to pray than just prayers of petition, asking God for things. Teach your child to pray in many different ways such as meditation, thanksgiving and adoration. This way, just as in their relationship with you, petition will just be a part of the bigger picture.
Lastly, in those moments when one must make petitions to God, make sure they are petitions and not solutions! So often even adults can fall into the trap of telling God the answers they want instead of asking for his help. When one does this they set themselves up for failure, because if God doesn’t answer their petition, which is really a solution, then they can easily get mad at God or lose faith. In this sense keep your petitions broader, so God can respond as he sees fit, not limited to the solution you’ve come up with and demanded of him.
Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr., is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City. He is currently completing an S.T.L. in fundamental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Additionally, he contributes columns to Catholic News Service. He can be found on all social media platforms with the handle @PadreGeoffrey, and his web site www.padregeoffrey.com