When I was a growing up, we had a rote prayer that we learned for mealtimes and a rote prayer that we learned for bedtimes. These were both rattled off as quickly as possible, so much so that the meal-time prayer lost whole phrases over the course of time. The bedtime prayer was a variation of the 'now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep' prayer but ours didn't include dying before we wake:
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And when I've slept all through the night,
To wake me with the morning light.
I haven't wanted to do that with Naomi. She has ideas and thoughts of her own and actually seems eager - sometimes, anyway - to let God know what those are. Although we've been nothing like consistent, we have tried various prayer practices at meals and bedtime. Those have included reading (but not memorizing) short prayers like the one above from prayer books for children, sung prayers and graces, and praying aloud with Naomi to model what it means to pray extemporaneously.
To help Naomi begin to do that, a couple years ago I started with a simple version of the prayer of examine: looking back through the day and thinking of the things to be thankful for and on the other side, for those things that we needed God for. We've done something similar with what are our hopes and what are our fears. Sometimes Naomi has the words to say those things and sometimes she can names things and I'll pray for her and with her. This has been especially important when she does feel scared or worried about something.
Lately, at her initiation, we have been praying silently together and then we'll tell each other what we prayed for. I kind of like this format of prayer because it allows me to pray intentionally for her and then tell her about it. There are times, even though this was her suggested method, that she can't settle down enough to be quiet or she gets distracted by the book beside her or just can't think of anything.
This was the case last night. In the past I've just said, 'If you don't know what to pray for or you don't have words, it's okay. God knows our hearts and the Bible says that even when we don't have words, the Spirit prays inside us and for us.' (Rms 8:26ff) I stand by that. But we all have times when we can't settle down and having a tool to pray helps us. For me that has been journalling, writing down in whatever fragments and pieces, longhand or point form, the things I'm feeling and longing for.
Naomi is five and like any other average five-year-old still doesn't write beyond the letters of the alphabet and some basic words. But she loves drawing. So I had a brainwave. I said, 'Why don't you draw what you're praying for and thankful for?' This got her very excited. She first drew a detailed picture of Jesus, complete with ten toes, arms wide open and the traditional sash. She then followed that with an image of me and her dad and a flower (but she explained that the flower was just a decoration, not a part of her prayer). This may not be a new idea to anyone else, but to me it seemed like a revelation.
Being a very visual person myself, prayer is often easier to practice in imagery. Although for me this is most often internal and imaginative, I was pleased that Naomi is embracing this method of expressing her prayers. I'm curious to see where else it can take her, and I'm wishing I'd thought of it sooner. Haven't psychologists have been using this method of communicating with children for ages? It's in every crime drama featuring a victimized child. Why not prayer? It seems to me that in the same why that using sign language to ask for milk was a revelation for our non-verbal one-year-old, being able to communicate to and about God with images - even colors and shapes and scribbles - could be a really fun and meaningful way for non-writing or speaking children to connect to the Divine.