Praying or playing?

(First written in 2011)

One of the things I most want to achieve as a parent is to teach my daughter to pray. Not that I have a clue myself, so that in itself is an interesting quest, but we we’re really exploring this as a family.

I’ve been thinking hard since my daughter’s birth about the ways in which children experience God, especially really tiny children – the ones who can’t even really talk yet. My daughter can just about say “I like…pasta/Daddy/milk” etc. but that’s her most complex sentence structure at 21 months. She’s not really able to string together a theological treatise just yet.

I’ve written elsewhere about a realistic pattern of praying as a family but we’ve also found other toddler-led ways. One is a song that my Mum sang to me when I was tiny. It’s a bit 1970s but it goes “Jesus, Jesus loves X, Yes, He does, Yes, He does (x3) And He wants X to love Him too.” The tune may spring to your mind if you know it but you get the idea in any case and you can add in anyone’s name for X.

Pigwig (our DD) loves it and sings it to herself when she’s alone (we often get renditions at 3 am through the baby monitor) as well as asking me to sing it at nap-times or in the car and dictating who should be added to each verse. Grandparents, her toddler friends, her child minder and much-adored Godparents all get regular mentions. She also occasionally adds in toys, fishes, cardis (cardigans) and cats but I’m sure the Lord understands and these are things that rate highly in her world. It may sound like just meaningless toddler babble but it’s amazing how often she asks for a name then reminds me later that her little friend had been sad or crying after a bump.

Today we found another way. We needed to pray for Granddad who was suddenly hospitalised yesterday and I wanted to explain that Daddy had gone to see Granny and Granddad (a 700 mile round trip) because Granddad was in hospital. We had found these Playmobil figures when we cleared my parents’ attic last October but it’s only really this week that Pigwig has shown any interest in the miniature world you can create with them.

I set up the little scene above for her on the coffee table and prayed as I explained it to her. “This is Granddad in hospital because Granddad is poorly. Please Father God make Granddad feel better very soon. This is Granny who is with him. Please Father God show Granny you are with her and she doesn’t need to worry. This is Daddy. Daddy has gone to give Granddad and Granny cuddles to make them feel better. See they are happy to see him! Please Father God, keep Daddy safe in the car. This is the doctor who is making Granddad better. Please Father God make the doctor very clever so he can give Granddad the right medicine.”

She continued to play with the little set of people, talking to herself and mumbling bits of the story back to herself. I don’t think she would have understood this even a month ago but it seemed to make sense to her now. Animals from the next door farm set got mixed in but it didn’t matter. I moved the figures onto the table at lunchtime as we didn’t know how long Daddy would be gone and we talked some more over lunch and prayed for everyone again. As I cleared up the kitchen while she napped, the little figures were a great reminder to me to pray again, my big “grown-up” prayers that must seem so much more impressive to God …I jest of course!

I’d heard the phrase Godly play mentioned by Sunday School teachers but it wasn’t until I mentioned our little prayer adventure to my prayer partner that she made the quip. Now I am on the look out to build more prayer into play and, maybe even better, more play into prayer. I should also add here that my dear Father-in-Law has gone from being critically ill yesterday to being likely to go home either tomorrow or the day after. I’m sure it wasn’t just the Playmobil prayers that changed that situation but I do know this – Jesus listens to the little children and Pigwig’s prayers won’t have gone unheard amongst the throng of people who were on the case.

So, I’d love to know. How do you pray with the tiny people in your life?

Leave a Reply