As a young child in a small town, the only preschool was at my church. I remember bits and scraps, especially the melamine lunch trays served in fellowship hall. The vegetable compartment was always filled with a canned vegetable – spinach, beets, green beans. Growing up on a farm, factory canned vegetables were not something I was accustomed to. Over these trays of carefully prepared lunches, we learned to pray.
Shortly after I began attending preschool my parents called the director. “Do you pray for individual children at lunch they asked?” ‘No,” replied the director. Confused, my parents shared that I had been praying for “Davey and Brad” at home since I started preschool. Befuddled, the director explained that there were no children with those names. The prayer they used was “God is Great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. By his hands, we all our fed, thank you God for daily bread.” Perhaps they let out a simultaneous “aha” at the words “daily bread.” My dad still chuckles at my childhood mix up.
This story has always been told as a cute anecdote to bring a smile and a laugh. It certainly is sweet, but I think it points to something a bit deeper as well. What a gift to be reminded that I was brought up in a home where children’s prayers were heard. My home was a caring place, where my parents listed to my concerns and took them seriously by calling the preschool teacher. From my earliest days, I have been blessed to know that my prayers are important, that they are heard.
As I reflect back upon this last school year of ministry, I realize that one of the most significant changes we made was moving our children’s time (and therefor children’s classes) to after the prayers of the people. We did this with little or no explanation; I’m not sure many noticed. But, the children did. On the very first Sunday, one of our younger elementary students prayed for her mother’s upcoming mission trip. Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer. The congregation responded, just as they do for other prayers. Weeks went by before any more children shared their prayers. A youth asked me privately to share their prayers for mental health awareness month. Then, another youth prayed for a struggling cousin, Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer. I pray that people of all ages continue to share their prayers out loud
I hope that the children who are present, observing and participating in prayers of the people are learning the same messages I learned as a child: your prayers are heard. Your voice is important. You belong here. I believe that people are learning to share one another’s joys and sorrows. Adults, youth and children, we are praying as the gathered body of Christ, for and with one another. Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.
The Holy Spirit’s movement was seen again today during our children’s time prayer. We had been talking about being children of God. When I asked, “whose child are you,” a young girl’s first response was “I am God’s child.” Wow. At the end, I asked the children to fold their hands for prayer. The same four year old began to spontaneously pray out loud. I asked her if she would share her words again in the microphone. With all the confidence of a person who knows her prayers are heard, she prayed “Thank you for our parents and our food. Thank you for Jesus. We love you. Amen.” The congregations was moved to “Amens” and applause. I hope that the prayer of children will continue to encourage us all to speak the words of our hearts with confidence. Thanks be to God for the prayers of children.