Nighttime prayers are a tradition in our family. I can remember with complete clarity my mom sitting with us at the foot of our beds every night, helping us say our prayers. We didn't say the traditional "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" prayer. I think my mom thought there was something a bit macabre about the whole "if I die before I wake" thing. I agree whole heartedly. That sort of prayer could give a kid a complex. So we prayed a different prayer (my mother's creation, I believe) and with only one slight variation it is what I pray with my children each night as well. It goes: "Thank you God for this wonderful day and help me make good choices tomorrow. Help me have good dreams and not any bad ones. Thank you for everybody I love. Please send guardian angels to protect us. In Jesus' name, Amen." The second half of that first sentence was, for me and my sisters, "help me to be a good girl tomorrow." Since we have representatives from both genders and I am in the whole "we are never bad, we just make bad choices" school, I changed it up a bit. Other than that, though, this is what I said, verbatim, every night at bedtime for well into my young adult years. It's still what I say if I'm really worn out and don't feel like going into lots of specific prayer requests or in depth analysis of my life/day. It's a handy little prayer.
My kids have added an adaptation. I have asked them for about two years now if there was anything they would like to thank Jesus for before we say "Amen." Usually they said no or just didn't say anything at all (to be fair, Baby Girl was an infant at the time so I didn't have high expectations). The first time Baby Boy accepted the invitation was after a trip to the Rainforest Cafe. He was two, just barely so, and when we got to the end and I asked if he had anything else to add he thought very hard, then simply said "monkey." We thanked Jesus for monkeys. Then he didn't mention anything else for a long, long time.
I, for the most part, had stopped asking the question. Then about a week ago we were saying prayers and after I said "amen," Baby Boy said, "Okay, my turn." He clasped his hands together, clenched his eyes shut, turned his face heavenward and with an astounding sincerity for such a tiny little man, thanked Jesus for every member of his family by name. I managed not to cry as I thought it would cause him never to do it again (he is a boy, after all, and does not appreciate Mommy showing an abundance of emotion) but I was extremely touched.
Since then he does this every night and his little sister, in keeping with her usual pattern of big brother adoration, has started doing it as well. Their lists of praises vary, but Baby Boy's always includes Mommy, Daddy, Sister, and himself. Last night's prayer was pretty awesome. After thanking Jesus for his family, including all his sisters, his aunts, his Nana, and his Mimi, he thanked Him for Lightning McQueen, rock-n-roll, Princess (his sister's favorite alter-ego), Batman, Superman and Ironman. Can I get an Amen? In all my time on this earth, I have never thanked the Lord for rock-n-roll and, let's face it, where would we be without it?
Baby Girl's prayers revolve more around events ("thank you that go potty on big potty" is a recent favorite) or are spoken so softly that I can't quite make the words out. Unlike her brother's fervent clasping of the hands, squeezing shut of the eyes, and facing the heavens praying style, she places her hands together very softly in a traditional "praying hands" fashion, closes her eyes in an equally demure way and solemnly bows her head. I wondered at first who they were modeling since neither Daddy nor I pray in those ways usually, but then had a thought. I think that they already have a relationship with their Savior. Not just a knowledge but a relationship. And I think each one of us has a unique way of approaching our King. Their prayer styles are as much a part of them as the color of their hair or the way they carry themselves, part of their own soul-speak between them and their loving Protector, Comforter, Father, and Friend.
I does the heart good to pray and it does mine even better to watch my children pray. Yesterday, Phillip peeked in on Baby Boy in his room. He was reading a story in the Children's Bible to himself, not each and every word though he has started reading a little already, but telling the story from the pictures. Once he was done, he put the book to the side, clasped his hands together and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. All alone, thinking he was unobserved, he was reaching out to Jesus and giving him thanks for the people and things in his life.
I have been far from a perfect parent when it comes to religious instruction. Before we found our current church, actually the reason we found our current church, is because I had a terrible sense of guilt that my little guy knew who Lightning McQueen was but not Jesus Christ. I prayed for God to give me help and He led me to a church which, in my opinion, has the best children's program I've ever seen. I also prayed that He help me to model Christianity, that my children learn from my example how to know, love and follow Him. What I am witnessing now is not something I've done through my power. I don't spend every free moment of the day pushing a Christian agenda. We often forget to say grace before we eat. We watch just as much Diego or Yo Gabba Gabba as we do Veggie Tales. No, this is simply an answer to prayer. I asked for the Lord to speak to my children's hearts and He did and does. I will continue to pray and hope that my life is a witness to them, but I'm not going to ignore that their lives are becoming witnesses to me. I have added to my own of nighttime prayers "help me to have the faith of a child." And I know He will continue to show me how.