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3 ways to help your child pray in a healthy way

Not long ago, my son, Ryan, came home from school saying, “This is my lucky day!” Having put four quarters into the vending machine, two bottles of soda popped out. The expectation with vending machines is that you put in a designated number of coins, press the button that matches what you want, and presto, a product is there for your enjoyment. An extra is a pure bonus, but one thing is certain – anger is justified if you don’t get one of what you want!   

If a child prays to get specific things and then doesn’t get what he wants, he may complain that God isn’t answering his prayers. In other words, he might have a “vending machine” concept of prayer – if I invest so many prayers, then God is under obligation to deliver. As parents, you can help your child invoke the name of God in healthier ways. But this isn’t just a task for children. Our images of God continue to mature throughout life.

Prayer is a conversation, not a bargain. Nothing is too trivial to bring to prayer. We don’t have to worry about “bothering” God with unimportant matters. There is a tenderness in God’s relationship with us, as we read in Hosea, “I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” (Hos 2:14)

Encourage children to share their feelings with God instead of just presenting God with a list of “wants.”

Thy will be done. When Jesus taught us how to pray, we learned to ask that God’s will be done. The problem with the “vending machine” image of God is that we want God to do our will. Prayer isn’t a way to convince God that we have a better plan! Instead, through grace and mercy, we seek God’s will even in disappointment and sorrow.

Talk to your children about their motivation for prayer. Are they trying to convince God that their way is really the best way?

Prayers are answered in unexpected ways. Often we pray for specific outcomes but the answer to the prayer happens inside us, not outside in life’s events. As Fr. Pat McCloskey says, “God is the fixed point and I am the one who changes.”

Help children explore the different ways that prayers can be answered. Parents often offer comfort when the answer to a request is “No.” Has God ever responded to prayer with consolation or insight?

James and John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” They wanted to make sure they had their “Yes” ahead of time! Jesus overlooked their audacity and simply asked, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:35-37) Allow time this Lent for reflecting on how God has answered prayers in the lives of your family.