Some people find it quaint. Others cute. Others, outmoded, even damaging. But I consider prayer to be crucial for my children, albeit counter-cultural.
The percentage of the Australian population that profess to be Christian is dropping, with an approximate seven percent fall between 2011-2016.This is in accordance with trends across the whole Western world.
In the US, Christian belief has diminished by almost half, with an approximate fall from 81 per cent in 1976 to 43 percent today. And in an unprecedented development, more than half of UK’s population today profess “no religion,” according to the British Social Attitudes survey.
In light of this phenomenon, am I swimming against the tide by teaching my children to pray? After all, isn’t it just an attempt to ward off fire and brimstone, to appease an angry God? Or a list of requests we make while we passively twiddle our thumbs and wait for good things to be showered upon us as God’s chosen people?
No, it is nothing like that.
I hope to teach my children gratitude by saying a daily prayer of thanksgiving with them for everything we have: family, a roof over our heads, friends, health, sunshine when it shines– and rain when it rains. In this way, a prayer of thanksgiving can be an effective way to stave off a sense of entitlement.
Secondly, I teach them praise to encourage a sense of awe and wonder (in archaic language, “fear” which has often been misinterpreted as indicating a sort of reign-of-terror religion.). The first scientists were religious priests and sages, like the Magi whose study of astronomy led them to Bethlehem. These ancients were inspired to seek understanding of the world because praise and adoration had imbued them with inquisitiveness. They were curious to know how God created it all.
Thirdly, I teach my children contrition, to say “sorry”. Perhaps this is the most contentious prayer, believed to instill a sense of guilt. And admittedly, when done badly, this is exactly what it does. Done well however, teaching my children to say sorry acts as an antidote to the type of pride that stifles the spirit and narrows the intellect because it has never learnt that it can be in the wrong.
Fourthly, I teach my children prayers of petition. This is the most common form of prayer, simply because people tend to turn to God most when they need something…desperately. He comes as a kind of last resort when all other avenues have been exhausted.
I encourage my children to ask for what they need, not necessarily what they want. I teach them to ask for patience so they are better able to deal with a difficult person in their life. To ask for courage to stand alone whenever their conscience might demand it.
Finally, and most essentially, I teach my children to pray because I believe in God, and believe it is honorable and right to instruct my children in what I consider to be true.
British atheist philosopher Alain de Botton considers religious belief is “useful” insofar as it forms responsible citizens with a moral conscience. Of course, it should — and does — do that, but his approach is condescending and shows a disdain for truth. If God is not real, de Botton should not be encouraging belief in His existence.
But am I not despotically imposing belief in a deity on my children? A loving, “respectful” parent might give their offspring the opportunity to choose for themselves whether they believe in God.
Not as I see it. Raising children with a worldview bereft of a divinity imposes a vision of reality as godless. Each belief system is an imposition; when children are young it cannot be avoided. As they grow up and learn what “the others” believe they will have the basis for a choice if they feel the need of it.
There’s an old prayer, “Teach me to know You as You are.” God, (if there is a God) has been caricatured probably a billion times over. Those caricatures are damaging counterfeits and should be rejected. Unfortunately, exposure to these caricatures leads many people to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I think we should keep the baby. And pray to Him.
Veronika Winkels is a freelance writer who lives in Melbourne and is married with three young children.