Leaving your child or teen to chat to God at bedtime
You know the early days of parenthood when you put your baby down to sleep and you're just waiting for that perfect moment to sneak away? I feel like leaving your kid to chat to God can sometimes feel like that. We create the perfect environment, we dim the lights, we tick them up all cosy and then we try to sneak away. If they stir, perhaps we stop a little while longer, or we stroke their heads. But, it can take quite some time before we finally leave. And then, even when they do fall asleep, sometimes it's really hard not to just stand and watch them. Ok, so the analogy falls down in that the consequence of sneaking away too soon might be a screaming baby, but you get the gist?
We want everything to be perfect. We want to create the perfect environment for them to chat to God. We set them up with what a relationship with God looks like but we don't leave them. Leaving our kids to chat to God at bedtime can be challenging. It can be hard to unlearn being the High Priest for our children but it’s so worth it!
Getting out of the High Priest role
In Session 4 of The Course Rachel explains how sometimes we can put ourselves in the High Priest role when it comes to helping our kids connect with God.
Back in the days when the Israelites were wandering about in the desert, the High Priest's job was to stand between the people and God. He was the go-between, the middleman, the one who asked God questions on your behalf and then came back with God's answers. Long story short, Jesus changed all of that and cut out the need for a middleman - we can all have access to God whenever and wherever we like.
But, as parents, we can sometimes find ourselves in that High Priest role, putting ourselves in the middle of our kid’s relationship with God. And that tends to show most at bedtime!
In my experience, I think there are a number of reasons for that. It may simply be because that’s the way our parents prayed with us. Maybe it’s because your child doesn’t like praying out loud, but wants you to do it for them. Maybe because we’re so desperate to see our children connect with God that we do all the hard work for them - we speak for them, say their prayers for them and when God speaks, we tell them what he’s saying and doing. And maybe, if we’re really honest with ourselves, sometimes it’s because we don’t trust that God will be able to communicate clearly to our child or that our child will be able to communicate clearly to God, and so we feel we need to interpret both ways
Chat is a really useful tool because it releases us from being the High Priest in the centre. We get to step out of the way and let the child and God build and work on their own relationship.
Figuring out how to chat to God with your kid, and not put yourself in the High Priest role, can be challenging.
So, here are some tips both from my experience and from conversations with other parents on doing chat with your kids and on getting out of the room!
Ditch the structured prayers
Structured prayers can be really useful, but at bedtime they can get in the way of releasing children into their own conversations with God. So I’d encourage you to save them for another time and work on incorporating chatting time instead.
For most of us our day-to-day conversation with God is just that, a conversation. We don’t spend the day listing the things we’re thankful for or think to ourselves before bed, ‘I must just tell God one thing I’m sorry for’. So, I’ve always found this a slightly unnatural way to pray with kids.
You could chat out loud to God together, “God, I’ve had such a great day, I really loved visiting our friends. I am so thankful for how kind Karen is…” and you can invite your kid to chat. Perhaps by asking questions and talking to God on your own, “let’s tell God one thing that made us sad today.” Session 4 f the course has lots of examples of how to do this. If your kid is older perhaps you want to ask them, 'how would you like to spend time chatting with God?' Maybe they’d like to listen to some worship and chat to God about the song, or read a book and chat to him about it, or write to him.
If your kid is younger, remember that under 5s often can’t chat in their heads so you may want to create options for them to chat to God on their own, for example whispering into their hands or pillow. Or spend some time meeting with God together in different ways.
Experiment and have fun!
Don’t pin all your hopes on the bedtime prayer time
Parenting for faith is all about modelling and showing our kids what relationship with God looks like and the reality is that my kid has never seen me chat to God at bedtime. We can put a huge importance on bedtime prayers but it’s not actually part of our day we can model to them.
Children can be sticklers for routine and other days they just decide they want to do something different. I’ve learnt to hold bedtime prayers lightly. Some nights my child loves it when I suggest things we can chat to God about and we sit in his bedroom and spend time with God together, but some nights he asks to get into bed and asks me to leave him!
I definitely want to help my child learn how to chat to God about his day and would love for him to fall asleep chatting to God but it’s been important for me to not worry when this doesn’t happen. We are modelling all day long what it looks like to be in relationship with God so we don’t pray every bedtime that’s ok. To be honest, I often fall asleep before I start chatting to God before bed!
Don’t be afraid to leave the room
Have you ever been praying with your kid, you say, “Amen” and go to turn off the light or tuck them in and they ask you to pray some more? As a parent, you probably feel that this might be a tactic to extend bedtime but part of you thinks, ‘I can’t say no to praying!’ or perhaps part of you feels a little bit smug that your child is opting for more God-time.
We do need to leave the room! Our children don’t need us to chat to God. If they really want to keep chatting with God then they can carry on doing that when you’ve turned off the light and shut the door.
“Great, you want to keep chatting to God? I’ll turn off the light and leave you and God to chat together.”
And then go!
Trust God to hold your child’s heart and release you from the need to hear your kid pray
I think as parents we can often fill the silence of our kid not praying with words, or we can keep pushing to think of something they’re ‘thankful for’ or ‘sorry about’ because we want to see and hear the evidence of them connecting with God.
But, if we stop and ask ourselves why do we need to hear them pray out loud? Is it for us or for them?
There have been times where I’ve been with a group of people praying and I haven’t prayed out loud. This wasn’t because I wasn’t chatting to God, it was just because I chose to say it in my head, or I wasn’t consciously talking to God but was just enjoying his presence. Sometimes our kids just won’t want to pray out loud and that’s ok. We can trust God to hold our children’s heart - after all, he wants to connect with them more than we can even imagine.
If you’ve never done bedtime prayers like this, I’d encourage you to start exploring what that might look like for you and your child! For older children, in particular, it may take time but it is so worth it. So do go on this journey of coaching your child into developing their own bedtime chat with God, and sure, we might sit outside their room and listen in, or continue to pray for them for a distance, but we can trust that God has them and they don’t need us in order to meet with him.