We recently lost a beloved family pet. He was a bearded dragon named Chewbacca, “Chewie” for short, after the Star Wars character. He wasn’t hairy and didn’t make any cool noises like his namesake, but he was a lot of fun.
The kids made obstacle courses for him, carried him around on their shoulders and even tried getting him to “eat” bugs with his tongue on an iPad game. Even when he was just sitting around in his terrarium he’d watch us intently, sometimes cocking his head to one side like he was trying to figure us out (good luck with that one!). He had intelligent, curious eyes. We all loved him, and have all shed tears for this little guy who shared eleven years with our family.
When he died, it hit all of us harder than we’d expected. One of my kids called me into his room the night Chewie died and said, “Mom, I’m scared. This feels awful, and I know I have to go through it at least three more times…” We have three other pets.
Grief is Hard
What I read in his wide eyes was the truth he was unwilling to speak aloud: if losing a pet feels this terrible, what will it feel like losing a person? And it made me realize that my kids have experienced very little grief in their lives. My mom died when our oldest was too young to remember, and the others hadn’t even been born yet. They’ve lived their entire lives away from extended family, so the deaths of great-aunts and uncles and even younger extended family members didn’t affect them like they did my husband and me. It was then, looking into the frightened eyes of my grief-stricken son that I realized how little they’ve lost.
My first instinct was to try and protect him from the feelings through distraction or avoidance. I wanted to stand between him and the bad feelings, hoping to take some of them on or at least deflect them away. But as my bull-headed agenda gave way to a little bit more of a prayerful posture, I heard God’s still, small voice reminding me that when I make myself the savior of my kids, I take attention from their Savior.When I make myself the savior of my kids, I take attention from their Savior. Click To Tweet
Praying for My Kids
In that moment, I realized that the loss of our lizard was training grounds for grief for my kids…and training grounds for me as well. I have to learn to step out of the way sometimes, to protect less and trust God more. Because sometimes it’s the very things I try to protect my kids from that God wants to use to bring them to maturity:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1:2-4 (NIV)
This got me thinking about how I pray for them. So often my prayers for my kids involve protection from harm, for success, health and ease.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to start praying for them to fail and be sick or get hurt! But I’m realizing a need to step back a little more and maybe broaden the scope of my prayers. While there are absolutely evil forces at work that I need to battle on my knees on behalf of my kids, there are things I’ve previously viewed as “enemies” or labeled as “bad” that could possibly be part of God’s ultimate plans for their lives in a good way. As a parent (and human with limited perspective) it’s really hard to know where that balance is. But here are a few things I’ve come away with as I’ve taken my prayer life for my kids to God.
3 Ways I’m Praying for My Kids
1.) Don’t stop praying for the blessings, but make God the focus – not the blessings.
It could be really easy to shift into a stoic mentality, and think the best possible thing we can pray for our kids is that they’d be plunged into adversity so they’d have to rely on God more. I don’t advocate for this extreme. James 4:2-3 says there are things we don’t have because we haven’t asked for them. I don’t ever want to refrain from praying blessings on my children just so they will toughen up in their faith! I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I believe God is calling me to continue to pray for blessings on my children, but I need to open my heart and mind to God accomplishing those blessings in whatever way He sees fit.
For instance, all of our kids play hockey. Before a big game we pray what we call “Nana’s 3 C’s”: confidence, calmness and concentration. I always pray for physical protection; hockey isn’t for the faint of heart, and as the kids get older the play gets rougher and injuries are more the rule than the exception, unfortunately. During games I want my kids to succeed, to feel good about themselves and at times find myself praying for them to score a goal or to have the energy to shut down an opponent at the end of a particularly exhausting game when everyone’s looking tired. I’m not going to stop praying those things, but what I’m realizing is that I need to keep God the focus of my prayers for my kids – not the blessing itself. So when that kid I prayed concentration for is playing a completely unfocused game and comes off the ice feeling terrible, I can recognize God’s work in all things (Romans 8:28-29!) and shift my prayers for God to use that disappointment and perceived failure to help my child rely on Him in a way he or she never would have had to if they’d scored the game-winning goal. Rather than coming away disappointed that God didn’t hear or answer my prayer, I can remember that success in the Kingdom of Heaven is defined very, very differently than the world defines it. I can watch the plans of God unfold and adjust my prayers accordingly, not seeing blessing or safety or worldly comfort as evidence that God is real and hears my prayers, but recognizing that prayer is an ongoing conversation with the Creator of the Universe. When He says no, I can move on and invite him into the next chapter of the story.
2.) Pray them through the pain – don’t try to pray (or take) the pain away.
As I said before, my knee-jerk reaction to my kids feeling pain is to try to remove it by any means necessary. Ice cream for dinner? Sure! Favorite movie on a school night? Why not. Distraction, deflection…check. I’m not saying we can’t self-soothe or find relief from grief in doing special things. But when my main goal is to help them escape the pain, they’ll never learn how to face it head-on themselves. So where I need to be shifting my focus is to pray them through the pain – not to pray the pain away or teach them indefinite avoidance. So as my kids struggled with the loss of our sweet Chewie, I started praying that God would use the pain as a way to display his love and peace and comfort to them. I prayed that they would think to ask God for help in processing the grief. And that they would begin to learn that no matter what happens to them in life, they are never alone. Because honestly, if I am always the savior of my kids, what will happen when I’m not there to pick up the pieces? And then we ate ice cream and watched a movie.
3.) Teach them to pray.
I can pray all I want for my kids, but if I don’t model it for them by praying with them they may never know how to cultivate a personal relationship with God. There is so much about my faith that somehow I think they’ll gain by osmosis. So many times they ask questions or say something that I’m shocked they didn’t already know. In the crazy-busy lives we all live, we need to make time to teach our children how to grow closer to God on their own. I remember Beth Moore said once that the best and hardest day of parenting one child was the day her daughter wrote a prayer down and stuck it in their prayer jar at home. Beth asked her what the prayer was and she said, “It’s between me and God.” As painful as the letting go is, isn’t this the end goal? To watch their relationship with God become their own? I can relate to Beth. I want to be all in with my kids – I want to know who they’re talking to, what they’re watching, and what they’re thinking. But I realize I need to come to a place where I’m confident that even in the things they can’t or won’t talk to me about that they’re comfortable and capable of going to God with those things.
This entire journey of letting go and shifting my prayer focus for my kids stems from the need for surrender. Surrender is hard because it reveals the extent (or lack) of our faith. That can be painful! But I’m willing to find out and to grow.
Join the Conversation
How about you? Where are you in your own journey of surrendering control to God? We’d love to know in the comments!