In preparation for my internship congregation’s annual Children’s Sunday, I looked for a collect to use as a Prayer of the Day. I admit to being a bit bothered by the prayers for "young persons" found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship:
God of all good gifts, your Son gathered children into his arms and blessed them. Help us to understand our youth as they grow in years and in knowledge of your world. Give us compassion when they face temptations and experience failures. Teach us to encourage their search for truth and value in their lives. Help us to appreciate their ideals and sympathize with their frustrations; that with them we may look for a better world than either we or they have known; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord God of our ancestors, we thank you for what you have done and will continue to do with our daughters and sons. Walk with them in life, and keep the evil one from obstructing their path. You see all; you know where the water is deep. Keep them from danger. Order their steps and guide their feet while they run the race of faith. May the good work that you have begun in them be brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pew edition, page 83
These prayers are so negative! It’s as if childhood is nothing but a path littered with snares and entrapments, "temptations" and "failures," "frustrations" and "danger," that require the condescending prayers and guidance of adults. Don’t get me wrong – these are good and fine things for which to pray – for all of life, not just childhood, has its perils – but the tone of these prayers is overly negative.
What about the blessing that children are? What about what the (adult, "grown-up") church needs to learn from young people? What about the vocation children have to grow into, learn about, and share the gifts God has given them? What about children as the image of a God who came to us as a child?
Using some of the language of the second prayer listed above, I reworked the prayer to lift up a more positive image of childhood:
Lord God of our ancestors, we thank you for what you have
done and will continue to do with our daughters and sons. Walk with them in
life, and keep the evil one from obstructing their path. Grant parents and adults wisdom in caring for
children, and respect for the gifts you give to the young. As Jesus welcomed children in his midst, may
your holy church also welcome, bless, nurture and honor children. In the name of him who came to us as a child,
Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.
I think we need to be careful not to be overly negative or condescending in how we pray for young people.
What do you think?
6 thoughts on “Praying for our Children”
I agree, and as a young adult ministry advocate, we get lumped into that kind of thing as well.
And if it’s a Children’s Sunday, why can’t the prayer be from the perspective of children as well, and not speaking as though they’re down the hall and not Christians themselves praying along? As in “and as your children, grant us the wisdom to develop the gifts we are given.” Or is that not what your “Children’s Sunday” means? I always hated being patronized as a kid…
What a lovely revision. My grandpa (who was a Lutheran pastor) loved to quote 1 Timothy 4:12 (“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity”) to me. I have often felt that should be the guiding wisdom for how we treat young people in the church.
Seems to me your prayer is fabulous, and all I would add is something about forgiveness when we do fail (because you’re never too young, or old, to learn about forgiveness).
I’m glad you pointed this out about these prayers. The first two do sound like a tall guy or gal, standing over a bunch of young’uns, praying to God, but looking down on the kids. Your version sounds like a person looking up to God in prayer and praise.
I think you’re absolutely right! there are temptations for EVERY AGE. But there is so much to celebrate about our children.
A little late on this one, but meh.
I’ve found over the years that that sort of sentiment pervades a lot of the goings-on at church. A lot of the time, because I’m “not a grown-up,” I feel almost patronized when I voice my opinion (unless, of course, I’m agreeing with somebody, in which case it’s a “wonder” that “God is working in our world”).
The view of children has not changed since the apostles first shooed them away, I fear it never really will. Children have such insight and curiosity about the world, there’s so so much more that should be said in that prayer…so much thankfulness that neither of the first two expressed.
But I feel like these prayers should be for them, not just about us talking about them. “Help us help them,” or “do this for them,” etc. But “Be with them while they explore your creation, and begin to make it theirs, too.”
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