If you’re like me, you probably make prayer too complicated. For a long time, I thought I needed to get things in order before I really made progress in prayer. I felt like I needed a lock-tight theological definition for what prayer was, an understanding of the different types and traditions of prayer (and when to use them), and of course, I needed a quiet spot with a focused mind that could remember all the most important and appropriate things there were to pray about. Mostly, I thought I needed “to get my heart right,” though I never quite knew if or when I accomplished it.
But prayer isn’t some math equation with a proper formula to execute before our freedom to engage. It’s not a test to pass or a game to win. Of course, there's a time and place to grow in the things I mentioned above, but they’re not the place to start. The place to start is simply at the beginning, with actually praying. Prayer is not about being in control or getting it to fall in line. It’s about your heart falling in love with the God of the universe.
It's Simpler to Pray Than We Teach
As a mom, I have to wonder how often I have imposed—or simply unintentionally suggested—my misunderstandings of prayer on my children. I desperately want to teach my children to have ongoing communication with God. I long for them to know they can talk with God anytime, anyplace, about anything. But sometimes, I make the idea of “teaching them to pray” too complicated as well. I worry when they pray for superficial things like what toys they hope they receive at their next birthday that’s 11 months away. I stress when they don’t want to pray, feeling like it might be a sign that they’ll never love God. I freeze up when they ask me tough theological questions like, “Why do we talk to someone we can’t see?” concerned if I don’t explain it right, I’ll somehow ruin their relationship with God for their entire lives.
Rediscovering the Basics
It’s a lot of pressure when I see it all written out like that. This is where it’s helpful to allow the old adage, “back to basics,” lead us. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing.” It’s always been a bit of a confusing line for me. How is that possible? How do I eat? How do I talk to my friends on Voxer? How do I think about, well, anything else besides praying? What Paul means here is to simply build a life where prayer comes as natural to us as breathing.
It should be our first response when our child falls off the playset and we’re running out the backdoor to check on them. Our go-to when we’re exhausted in the middle of the night with a sick kiddo. Our default when we’re wondering how to handle our late-night talks with our middle schooler. Of course, we’ll think about other things. Of course, our minds won’t always be primarily focused on God. But we begin to see God in all. We begin to see every moment, the trivial, mundane, silly, and normal, as worthy of bringing to God.
By Grace We “Say Grace”
This is all we need to teach our children how to pray. Like us, our kids bring a mix of motivations and understandings to prayer. They bring good, they bring bad, they bring selfishness, they bring purity. Like us, they have questions—good ones, silly ones, hard ones, and helpful ones. But none of these things should prohibit us from praying because God is big enough for the questions, for the emotions, for the tangled web of motivations and understandings. He knows this about his people, which is why we come to him by grace. Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (NIV). It is by grace we are saved. It is by grace we pray!
Grace uncomplicates prayer. Grace means that rather than focusing on cleaning up our act before we get to God, we can focus on falling in love with God because he has already come to us. When we start from a place of grace in our prayer life, we stop counting all the things we need to do before we pray and we just…pray. We certainly can and should grow in our understanding of prayer as time goes on, but don’t let it be a hindrance to you or your children to experience the beauty and privilege it is to pray.
Learning to Pray by Doing
Moms, praying teaches us to pray. And this is how we teach our children to pray as well. Start with the ordinary stuff. Don’t overcomplicate it. Model a life that brings everything to God, regardless of how you feel, the ways you’ve messed up, the level of importance you believe it has, the skills you think you bring—God accepts your prayers just as they are. He accepts you as you are. Talk with God about everything. Remember, it is by grace we pray.
Meet the Author
Laura Wifler is the co-founder of Risen Motherhood and serves as the executive director and co-host of the podcast. She is the co-author of the bestselling book Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope For Everyday Moments and the author of the forthcoming children's book, Any Time, Any Place, Any Prayer (September 2021). Laura, her husband, and her three children live in central Iowa. You can find her on Instagram @laurawifler or at laurawifler.com.