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Book Excerpt: Your Child's First Prayer Lesson

The first step in becoming a positive influence in the spiritual life and development of your child is in admitting your imperfection as a parent. My wife, Marlinda, and I sat across the dinner table from this young couple in our church. They are parents of two young children, both under the age of ten. A few minutes into our conversation Michele started crying. It was one of those silent cries. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but there was no noise. We waited patiently, silently, for her to tell us why she was crying. In a few moments Michele stammered: “I feel like such a bad mother.”

            The husband tried to console her, rubbing her back, silently but reassuringly. I understood his actions. So did Marlinda. As seasoned parents—at least that is how we appeared to them, having raised our children—the next words out of our mouths would mean the world to them.

            I spoke first. I reassured Michele that the fact she was so broken up about not being the mom she envisioned probably proved just the opposite: she was a good mom! Her husband immediately chimed in, “You’re a great mom, sweetheart. Our kids know that, and so do I.” As Michele continued wiping the tears from her eyes, Marlinda spoke up, saying, “I know how you feel. I used to struggle with the same feelings when our daughters were little kids. You never think you’re doing enough. You always think that you’re falling short of the standard. I think we mothers set up an unreachable goal that keeps us in a vicious cycle of self-loathing and depression.”

            Michele’s head bobbed up and down, affirming that’s how she’d been feeling. We spent some more time reaffirming them and reminding them that parenting is a marathon, not a sixty-yard dash. But effective parenting begins when you realize that your kids are not looking for perfect parents. They are looking for loving parents. The spiritual formation of your children starts with your loving them. You cannot score an A-plus in every area of life or every stage in the parental process all the time. But you can love your kids throughout every stage of their development, even during some of their unpleasant moments. Before you can effectively love your kids, though, you have to love yourself. This is also the starting point! If you think the worst about yourself, how will you teach or demonstrate to your kids that God has good things in store for them? Prayer starts with the premise: God loves me and wants my best.

            Prayer will become a difficult task if the foundation of love is removed from our minds. That is why you have to learn to love yourself. Our parenting springs from this self-love. The effective parent teaches his child to love himself and behave accordingly. Most of this is nonverbal. It’s modeled.

Jesus was loved by His parents

Jesus’s home life was a nurturing environment. Mary and Joseph loved Him. They also loved each other. Joseph took Mary to be his bride knowing she was pregnant—albeit by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). For him to wed Mary took a lot of courage and love. It tells us a lot about his character. Joseph even moved his young family out of the country to protect them from Herod’s death sentence levied against Jewish boys born during the time of Jesus’s birth (Matt. 2:13). This demonstrated his genuine love for Jesus and the preservation of His future—the call of God on His life. We should not overlook these acts of love because they played an invaluable role in the spiritual formation of our Lord. The role of parents in the spiritual shaping of their children is to create a home environment that makes it easy for the child to locate and remain on the path of the divine. Mary and Joseph did that, and with God’s help so can you.

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This article is an excerpt from Raising a Child Who Prays (Charisma House, ISBN: 1-629-98945-2) by David D. Ireland, Ph.D.

David D. Ireland is the senior pastor of Christ Church, a multisite church in northern New Jersey with a membership of 8,000. He is a diversity consultant to the NBA and author of some 20 books, including the The Skin You Live In: Building Friendships Across Racial Lines and Raising a Child Who Prays. For more information please visit: http://ChristChurchUSA.org, @DrDavidIreland and http://davidireland.org.

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