I wasn’t a parent very long before the advice and criticism started flying. Well-intended family and friends felt comfortable suggesting improvements in discipline and procedure. My first child just didn’t start talking. That one threw us for a loop. My second child was energetic and curious, too much so for some. And so on. I listened to James Dobson on the radio almost every day. I tried this and I tried that. Those were exhausting years.
We tried to be perfect parents, but challenges that were bigger than us kept emerging. One of our children would tantrum violently without apparent provocation. We brought him to many doctors. We were questioned about our parenting style. Meanwhile, loving Christian friends and family members asserted “He just needs a good spanking!” In my heart, I knew that wouldn’t help in his situation. People were frustrated that I wouldn’t implement their simple suggestions. The pressure was on.
Somewhere along the way I let all of the parenting advice go as if it were washing down the drain. Most of my prayers for our children were cries for help. A mother sees strengths and potential that others may not. I prayed in a unpredictable rotation for the child or children who needed it most. I prayed desperately for help. God came through.
I just didn’t know.
A quarter decade later, recent events in my younger children’s lives have left me feeling in that similar, humbling way, just how much I “just didn’t know.” Despite all of our good intentions, there’s so much to know and understand, so many influences and so much potential parenting naiveté. Our world is full of potential harm and accidents waiting to happen. It’s very hard to be a parent. It’s hard to protect our beloved children. It’s even harder to advise and direct them to a place where they can thrive.
I came to understand that the spiritual health of my children rested primarily in our hands, not just in the hands of the church.
I wasn’t raised in a Christian home and hadn’t been taught about my value in God’s eyes. I was taught to behave and to work hard. So I did. I didn’t have model parents. Few of us do. But by the time we started our family, my kids were blessed by several praying grandparents. I believe that God’s grace and mercy began to flow in our home as a result of those sweet prayers for beloved grandchildren. These prayers were prayed at the breakfast table and in the church pews, consistently and lovingly. That's a lot of prayer over the years. It added up, and it worked. It still does. Those prayers are draped onto my children's lives as long as they each will live.
As our kids get older, the stakes seem to get higher. I remember sitting in the church nursery two decades ago, exhausted, overwhelmed by doctor and speech therapy appointments, sinks full of unwashed dishes, piles of dirty laundry and messes waiting on the kitchen table. I remember needing just an ounce of encouragement and a reminder of the joys of babies and toddlers. Instead, I heard an eery and dark quip from one older parent after another: “Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems.” I would repeatedly marvel at the lack of sensitivity. I realize now these were hurting parents of teen and adult children. Still, the encouragement to persevere through those early years rarely came.
“Your daughter’s achievements are a direct result of your prayers.”
I’ve thought back on those words many times. He was right. I understand how right he was, and I’m thankful for this revelation. Years ago, we had been blindly hit by the fact that one of our kids had made some bad decisions, seeking peer approval in unhealthy ways. Nothing horrible had happened, but something could have. I had been so sure that I could shield my kids from such influences, but I had failed. I begged God for wisdom.
All of our children have told us how excruciatingly hard it is to make Godly decisions, over and over, in a time and place in history where righteous living is mocked.
Even today, I have cried out to God for more than one of my children. Stress at school, sassy attitudes, depression and grief are all expressed either on the cream and blue roses sofa in our bedroom, in the passenger seat of the car on brief commutes, or over the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter, almost every day. But I’m not just a mom that prays when things are overwhelming. I also have learned to pray when things are good. I have learned to go to God with defensive prayers, where I need His help, when I’m crying “S.O.S.!” I’ve also learned to pray offensive prayers where I ask Him to help us take ground and to get ahead.
Both defensive prayers and offensive prayers are critical. Don't be deceived that the very lives of your children aren’t at stake. As I grew up and became part of a church family, people told me many times that “Someone has been praying for you. You’ll find out some day, but someone prayed for you. There’s absolutely no way that you would be where you are if someone hadn’t.” I do believe this. I suspect that the Christian lady down the road with the massive steaming homemade hot rolls, delivered fresh every now and then, may have been her. I will find out one day. Thank you, Lord, for whoever prayed for me.
Your greatest gift to your child is prayer.
Sometimes I can’t believe how much I pray for my children. Really, it’s my biggest task. What amazes me is how God puts that urge on my heart and it stays there until I have prayed what He wants me to pray. I tell my kids “You just don’t know how much I pray for you.” Sometimes I feel that they take it for granted. But they know it matters.
Just last week I got a call: “Ma, could you pray? Please. I really need it. And if I don’t, well, it can’t hurt, right?” When we hung up, my heart was swelling. Yes, I pray and pray. But the real legacy may be in my children understanding how much their lives and daily moments hang by a single thread that is in their connection with the God of the universe. That He is intimately concerned about every moment of their lives, and that He is waiting to be asked to be part of each one.
I have three schedules taped to my fridge. They are the work and college schedules of my three adult children. I’ll peek at one of the charts as I get the milk or replace the egg carton. Then I’ll pray for that child, where he or she is, at that moment. When I go on long drives, I’ll roughly divide the length of the drive by five and will set an alarm on my phone until I have given each of my five children the determined amount of time in prayer. I will go on prayer walks and go through a list until each of them is prayed for thoroughly. And I grab them in a brief hug as I bless them before they leave the house, especially if they’ll be away for more than part of a day. I pray for my children, because I know it will make all of the difference in the world.
I’m not saying that each person has to saturate their child with prayer in order for their lives to be rich. I will say, however, that some prayer is essential, and more prayer will reap a greater harvest. I absolutely know this. The enemy has tried to steal each of them in dramatic and horrible ways. It’s by God’s grace that the enemy has failed. As parents, we ultimately can do our best, and that’s all we can do. But God, in His mercy, has given us prayer. It is God who gives authority, position, honor and favor. It is God who directs the paths of men. The one thing we can do, and expect the best outcome for each child, is to pray. So we must pray.