The Yellow Telephone: Teaching Your Children to Pray

by Judy Ness

Nearly three years ago, our daughter, son-in-law and family made a cross-country move back to Minnesota. For several months they lived in a small apartment while they were looking to purchase a home. Mounted on one wall in the kitchen was an old, harvest gold, dial telephone. Having been raised in an era of smart phones, my grandchildren found this relic from the past to be utterly fascinating – and though the land line was disconnected, they spent hours “talking” on the phone to friends and relatives.

Shortly after they returned to Minnesota, my mother passed away. My grandkids all loved their great-grandmother, but 6 year-old Emily and Grandma Dolores were especially close. They shared September birthdays just a few days apart, and most years we celebrated their birthdays together.

One day, my daughter overheard this “conversation” on the phone:

“Hello, God? It’s me, Emily. Yes, you know me. I would like to talk to Grandma Dolores, please.” After a few more minutes of conversation, Emily hung up the phone and said to her mother, “Grandma Dolores is doing fine and is having a good time at the party in heaven.”

As Christians, we believe that in death, life is not ended – only changed. But how do you explain death to a child? We spoke of the joy that Grandma Dolores would experience being reunited with her parents, brothers, and sisters, who were already in heaven, and imagined they were all having a party—much like the family reunions we had shared here on earth—full of love and much laughter.

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:2-5 RSV

“Hello, God?” Prayer is simply a conversation with God, much like we would have a conversation with a person in the same room. With their simple and innocent faith, I believe that children already know instinctively how to talk to God. They have not absorbed the cynicism and doubt that many of us have as adults. Openness, humility, and trust are the hallmarks of childlike faith. I would contend that children do not need to be “taught” to pray – they only need to be encouraged.

At Genesis Classical Academy, the children are encouraged to offer their prayer intentions at each morning’s opening ceremony. Some days when I need a spiritual “lift”, I attend the opening. I love to hear the children tenderly bring their heart-felt requests before God.

“Dear Lord, please help us do well on our history test.”
“Lord, please bless my grandpa who is sick and help him to feel better.”
“Lord, please help us to find our dog that is lost,” and my personal favorite, “Thank you, God, that my grandma got her taxes done!”

It is also helpful for children to learn formal prayers, because these enable us to pray together in community. The “Lord’s Prayer” is a prayer that Jesus gave to the universal church that allows us together in community to bring our praise, thanksgiving, and petitions before the Lord (even in spite of the debt/trespass dance we all do in a nondenominational setting.) Formal prayers can also become part of the ritual at certain times of the day, such as meal times or bedtime.

Praying the scriptures, especially the Psalms, is another form of prayer. Because young minds are “like a sponge”, it is easy for children to memorize short scripture passages, which will stay with them and provide comfort and guidance throughout their lifetime. The book of Proverbs tells us, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 KJV

“Yes, you know me.” One benefit of prayer is that it helps us to remember that the Creator of the entire universe, the God of Power and Might, has created us, and knows us, and loves us – personally and intimately. How awesome is that? The world tells us we are flawed, unworthy, and unlovable. Communication with God helps us to see ourselves as God sees us – as unique, valuable, and loved. Once we understand that, we can begin to take our rightful place as sons and daughters in the family of God.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Judy Ness is a business owner, former teacher, and a passionate supporter of Genesis Classical Academy in Winnebago, Minnesota. She and her husband James have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. They count among their blessings the wonderful education that their grandchildren are receiving at Genesis.