Psalm 61 (CEB)
61 God, listen to my cry;
pay attention to my prayer!
2 When my heart is weak,
I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am
3 because you have been my refuge,
a tower of strength in the face of the enemy.
Paying attention is the preface to any prayer. Think of the words and cautions and excitement that you share with your children in the course of a day.
Playing soccer in the backyard, “Look at that sunset.”
Teaching an adolescent to drive, “Watch out for the mailbox!”
Walking to a coffee shop, “Did you see the man asking for money?”
When we pay attention to the world around us, the details can inspire our most profound prayers. The sunset reminds us to thank God for the beauty of creation. The anxiety of new experiences prompts us to “pray without ceasing” for the safety of our children and all travelers on the road. Lifting our eyes from our feet and from our cell phones prompts us to pray for the people in our path, their well-being and protection.
As parents, paying attention becomes second nature. We call our daughter back when we see her run out the door without her bicycle helmet. We celebrate when children eat broccoli and Brussel sprouts. We notice the slump of shoulders when our teenager is stressed or exhausted. We sigh with relief when we see our children using their manners and treating a sibling with kindness. It doesn’t escape our attention that our son hasn’t taken a bath in days.
The call of discipleship is to link this attention to our prayers. When we see and notice the good and the bad, the joy and the fear of daily life, God wants us to pray. That prayer can be as simple as, “Thank you!” or “Lord, watch over her.” It takes practice for us to slow down and remember God is present with us in every moment. Spiritual formation is the growing belief and conviction that God listens to our cries and pays attention to our prayers.
And we can begin forming our children by adding our prayers out loud to our observations. When we hear that a friend got in trouble at school, we can say a quick prayer that she will have a better day tomorrow. When a teenager is overwhelmed with tests and commitments, we can assure him that God loves him unconditionally. When a grandparent is sick, we talk about it over dinner, hold hands and pray for healing before leaving the table.
We are all forming our children in myriad ways by the way we spend our time, by the daily practices, and even by the symbols that our children see on our refrigerator, t-shirts and stickers on our cars. In Passing It On: How to Nurture Your Children’s Faith Season by Season, I provide symbols and practices for families to use each week. These exercises are a way to begin paying attention to the ways God is already at work in your lives and to celebrate those together.
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Kara Lassen Oliver began her writing career with the hope of helping teenagers experience and build personal relationships with God through spiritual practices. As a parent she has strived to point to God in the ordinary and the every day so that her children will see God as present and real in every aspect of life. Her latest book, Passing It On: How to Nurture Your Children's Faith Season by Season puts her experience and hopes into simple daily practices for families.