“Lord, help them love You a little more everyday.”
This was the prayer I prayed most often for my children until just over a month ago, and while I still pray it, it’s no longer my “go-to.” Now I more regularly pray: “Lord, help them know how much you love them… a little more everyday.” What changed? I’d say it’s an awareness that I was starting in the wrong place or more accurately, with the wrong person.
About six weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend who is becoming my mentor, although she probably doesn’t know it. She’s a few years farther along in the parenting journey, she’s been ministering to children a while longer too, and she’s got a contagious joy and depth of wisdom that comes from years of faithfully serving God. As we were talking over our meal, she looked up at me and said, “You know, if I had it to do all over again, I’d pray a different prayer over my children … I’d start by praying that they would know how much God loves them.”
I sat back in my seat, a little stunned. Her words were similar to mine, but they were different in a significant way. As I listened to her unpack what she was learning, I realized that while my prayer had been a good one, and one worth repeating, it wasn’t the first one I should pray either. Her prayer asked God to make a growing awareness of how much they are loved by Him, the foundation of their lives. The truth in these words is what we find in John 3:16: “And God so loved the world…” and Romans 8, which reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.” It’s what we mean when we say we must “be” righteous before we can “do” anything righteous. After all, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) This prayer my friend was teaching me begins with an acknowledgment that discipleship starts not by my children loving Jesus more, but by awakening to His love for them.
Yesterday was our Sunday School launch for the new school year, and we walked the halls of our church, found my daughter’s new classroom, and said hello to her teachers like we’ve always done. However, this time as we headed out of the children’s area, we were handed a beautiful card with this year’s theme verse from Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Our children’s ministry director who put forth this theme is also the friend I had lunch with that day, the one who gave me my new most-frequently prayed prayer for my children. While her biological children are grown and not getting a nightly bedtime prayer, she continues to disciple her “children” by showing the kids of our church where discipleship begins: with God Himself. As all these children memorize this beautiful verse over the course of this year, I pray that they, along with my own, will know that the foundation for their faith begins with Jesus, not them, and that they can rest easy and love more fully, because they are beginning to see how deeply they are loved by their heavenly Father.