As toddlers, my children, Natalie and Joe, were content to pray with their father or me when we tucked them in at night. Single parenthood, however, presented me with the challenge of encouraging them to hold tight to their faith after their greatest prayer seemed to go unanswered.
I earned my children's permission to guide them back to prayer by first learning to listen without a "holy editing function." Instead of trying to appear perfectly forgiving and resilient, I voiced some of my own struggles in prayer — right alongside my kids. I also learned the importance of being vulnerable, showing my kids I was leaning on God through prayer. God used this vulnerability to strengthen my role of leading by example.
Together, my children and I combined prayer with our need to express our feelings. During family devotions, I would ask my kids to complete sentences such as "One thing I am sad about is _________." Then we'd balance that statement with "One thing I am happy about is ________." Verbalizing what was on their hearts allowed my children to acknowledge both pain and blessing. They learned to pray with honesty and hope, moving toward gratitude.
I reassured my children that God would always love and treasure them. To emphasize their specialness in God's eyes (and mine), we initiated "Natalie Day" and "Joe Day." These much-anticipated monthly celebrations on the same date as their birthdays were times focused on each child. They were such a hit that Natalie and Joe often circled and decorated their day on the calendar to make sure I wouldn't forget! Understanding their value in God's eyes encouraged my children to go to Him in prayer.
Each new year we remembered milestones in our lives through a "12 Stones" tradition (Joshua 4:1-8). We chose 12 rocks from our yard and placed them in a row. Aided by prayer journals and calendars, we each made lists of ways we had seen God working in our lives during the past 12 months. My children's faces lit up as we picked up one stone at a time and shared our recollections, intentionally remembering how God had answered prayer, guiding our family throughout the year.
Looking back, I see how privileged I am to attest that children whose faith is bruised by divorce can embrace prayer before grasping its full essence. Through creativity, vulnerability and faithfulness, parents can nurture the faith of their children — cultivating hearts shaped by prayer instead of bitterness.