Kids Say the Darnedest Things: Learning From a Three-Year-Old’s Prayers

Like most parents with young children, I have to remind myself that not everyone is as interested in my kids as I am. When a person’s conversation, anecdotes, and illustrations betray a consistent fixation with his children, it’s only slightly more tolerable than when he demonstrates a similar preoccupation with himself. And as you might imagine, this danger is particularly acute for those—like pastors, for example—who regularly write and speak to a larger audience. Yeah, I feel sorry for those guys.

So anyway, let me tell you a story about my three-year-old son, Jack.

Jack has become a bit of a pray-er. He’ll occasionally volunteer to pray before meals and bedtime. The following is a pretty accurate amalgamation of the kind of things he prays for:

Dear God,

Thank you for Mommy, and Daddy, and Hannah, and my construction vehicles and all his grace. Thank you for Grandma, and Grandpa, and Gracie* and Kid’s Club, and my blankies and the wall and the ceiling. Thanks for baseball and making my ear better. And for all his grace. Amen.

Before making a few comments on this, let me pass on a few interpretive notes. “Hannah” is Jack’s sister. “Gracie” is Gradma and Grampa’s Jack Russell Terrier, a dog that Jack simply can’t get enough of. His “construction vehicles” are his favorite toys. He spends hours digging and transporting dirt and mulch in our yard with miniature diggers, cranes, and trucks. Baseball, probably because it’s in season, is currently his favorite sport. He relentlessly wants someone to pitch and hit with and, curiously, he alternately pretends to be playing with the Cardinals, Royals, and Cubs. The remark about his ear has to do with quickly getting better from a recent ear infection. And the “his” in the often-repeated mention of “all his grace” refers to God.

Besides the fact that kids say funny things, what can we learn from a prayer like this? Certainly not that Jack will grow up to be a spiritually mature man of faith who invests in a rich life of prayer. That would be a bit like saying his ability (occasionally) to hit underhand tosses of a soft, oversized baseball indicates that he’ll play in the big leagues someday.

But his prayers do point to a few important things, including:

1. Even very young children can understand basic truths about God. Jack’s prayers, for example, indicate that he’s at least beginning to grasp that God is the Creator of all there is, he’s the source of all good gifts, and he provides grace to meet our needs. And he’s certainly not exceptional in this regard. This should encourage us as parents to provide even our small children with means to grow in their understanding of God and his ways. This could mean any number of things: (a) regularly reading them children’s Bible stories (we have a number of them in our bookstore), (b) listening to well done music like the Seeds Family Worship, (c) engaging them in everyday conversations that provide opportunities to draw connections to God and the gospel, (d) having them participate in Crossing Kids, etc. Masterful parental guidance and teaching is not the goal here. Intentionality is.

2. As most parents know, kids are always watching and listening to you. No, I don’t mean they always do what you tell them. What I mean is that, as parents and other individuals that play a large role in kids lives, you are their models, for better or worse. When I hear my son say, with pretend irritation, “Gosh darn it!,” I know that he’s imitating one of my too frequent fits of frustration (let’s hope I don’t hear him imitating something worse anytime soon). Likewise, thanking God for “all his grace” is something that I find myself praying a lot before meals, etc. All this means that it’s our responsibility as parents and other people who play significant roles in kids’ lives to model genuine expressions of our faith—dependence, thanksgiving, obedience, praise, etc.—for our kids. Come to think of it, this might drive us to ask for more of that grace we’ve been talking about.

3. Finally, my son’s prayers are an important reminder for my own faith. In my adult “sophistication,” I sometimes obscure the clear line between all the joys in my life, be they big or small, and God’s gracious goodness toward me. I’m liable to think my house came from a builder, my coffee from Starbucks, my wife from southeast Missouri. As I mentioned above, however, Jack is inclined to see playing with the dog, his toys, and baseball as all coming from God. We’re both right, after a fashion. But Jack’s understanding is both simpler and deeper.

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