Its so important to pray with children, just like it is to do other hard things with them like Cook and Eat Dinner, Carry on a Conversation, Fold a Single Solitary Basket of Laundry, Pick Up the Blocks, Remember What It Was You Came Into This Room For Will You Stop Screaming So I Can Think For A Minute. And so on and so forth. Prayer, as many of us might remember, is a foundational part of the Christian Life and children should be included in it, even if it kills you.
My children's real prayer life begins in the Atrium with Catechists of the Good Shepherd. There, at the age of three or so, as they learn to pour beans, line the sheep up behind the Shepherd, paste construction paper cutouts of the chalice and the paten over the cutout of the altar, roll up their mats and speak nicely to one another, they learn to speak to and hear God. Its not difficult and basically lovely (on the days when Gladys doesn't have her lip out and a hard look in her eye that says 'I'll have everything my way'). You turn the lights off, light the candle, gather in a "half circle" at the prayer table, sing "The Lord is my Shepherd" and then the many things little people are thankful for or concerned about spill readily forth. Marigold, every day finding the pleasure of more speech, clutches her fists together, screws her eyes half shut and says "Jesus.....(stuff we don't usually understand)....Amen" and the looks around, extremely pleased with herself. Gladys, strangely, speaks to a Person, we know not who, and asks for the information to be relayed on to God. Something like, "Please help God to give us a lovely day and a lovely dinner and a lovely going to bed. And please help God to help us have a lovely time."
"Who is she talking to?" a child will inevitably whisper very loudly.
"Shsh" I whisper back, "don't worry about it".
And of course, the prayer continues at home. We pray before meals, enforcing a strict Keep It Short And Simple or the person whose turn it is to pray is liable to go rambling through the avenues of forgetful repetition, "Thank You for Mommy and Daddy and Everyone Else". The Prayer becomes flustered, and starts again and again. And we pray before bed. And we say Morning Prayer three times a week in the course of doing school.
Ah, Morning Prayer. Its so Anglican. It would be so pious were not for the screaming of me to BE QUIET and SIT DOWN and STOP KICKING YOUR SISTER. Basically we get through the Opening Sentence (Rite Two, BCP pg. 79) and start the Confession three or four times before settling in. Sometimes we name aloud what we feel sorry about, trying to steer away from things like "I feel weally sowy that Womulous was mean to me" and more towards "I am weally sowy that I was unkind to Marigold". After the Confession is singing. Right now we're learning "New Every Morning is the Love" and "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus". Then we recite whatever we're memorizing and work on the Catechism. And finally we leap over everything remaining to say the Lord's Prayer, Suffrages A, and then our own free praying. And I must say that every day I'm amazed by how passionate and heartfelt each little child's prayers are that God would make sure and give us all "A Good Time", or, to vary it, "A Fun Time". As if their little lives are one long miserable rotten sorrowful existence. As if they don't play solidly from the moment their eyes open until they close at night. As if they don't have a constant stream of lovely friends parading through their house and the church. As if they don't have lovely stories and lovely lovely coloring. As if they don't watch all kinds of too much TV. As if they don't eat massive bowls of porridge covered in real cream and drink real mugs of tea. What is this passionate anxious calling out to God for A Good Time? As they cry out to God I ask myself, "Are you kidding me?"
But, of course, they're not kidding. And neither are any of the rest of us when we worry deeply about all the things that threaten our comfort and Arrangement of Life. Long ago, when I was small child in the far off dry unrelenting heat of the Malian Savanna, my mother sat by my bed and prayed "Dear Jesus, Thank you for this Day. Please help us to have a Good Time at the beach tomorrow." And then she opened her eyes, as I did mine, and we laughed and laughed until we cried. And one day, much much later, we did go to the beach, and we seriously thanked God for it.