Prayer, Plain and Simple

Writer and speaker Jennifer Schuchmann admits her limitation as a parent in the following, a project she and I developed to help parents pray for their school-aged children. Jennifer and I have also written two books together, Six Prayers God Always Answers, and Nine Ways God Always Speaks.  Jennifer is also the author of the New York Times best seller, First Things First, a collaboration with Kurt and Brenda Warner.

The fear for our children’s future takes many forms. Perhaps the most pervasive one in our current culture is the fear that if we don’t give our children every advantage to get ahead, they will fall behind. We may not be able to clearly articulate our feelings on this subject, but we demonstrate it with our behavior. We put our sons and daughters on the most competitive sports teams so they can develop their skills against the best competitors. We enroll them in the best music and art lessons to develop their talents. We push them into leadership roles that will reflect well on their college application. We want to give our children every advantage–an edge up on their perceived competition.

As prevalent as this behavior is in our current culture, a generation ago my mother did the same thing. Afraid that she wasn’t exposed to enough opportunities as a child, she enrolled me in everything. I took tap, jazz, ballet, gymnastics, art lessons, and sang in a choir. I played softball, tennis, basketball, and joined the Blue Birds (a precursor to Girl Scouts). I was involved in plays, musicals, and a debate team. I studied piano, flute, French horn, and rhythmic keyboards.


While this exposure was great for me, I was the oldest of 12 children. How could she keep this up for all of us?


As the mother of a ten-year-old boy, who has already played soccer, basketball, t-ball, baseball, and football, taken lessons in fencing, guitar, piano, and art, been on four competitive academic teams, and participated in five musicals, is in a boy’s missions group at church, and currently sings in two choirs, I understand her motivation. Just like my mother, I want my child to discover his talents and to develop them so he can be happy and successful.


Recently it occurred to me–this was my same motivation for obsessing about his education. I said that I have learned I can’t control these things but while I pay it lip service, my hasn’t changed. I want him to succeed so much, I will try anything at least once, and as this proves, often I will try it twice, even when I know better. 


My concerns about my son’s falling behind, about his education and future, and his well-being may seem like reasonable concerns for a mother. And they are. The problem is that in each case I moved past concern and instead worried about them. In some cases, that worry was the primary motivation for my behavior. There were two flaws with that thinking.


The first flaw in my thinking was that I had control. I have some control over environment and circumstances. But as Jordan’s chin incident proved, even with me right there doing everything to protect him, I still fail. The education example proves that while I can put him in the best educational environment, it’s up to him to maximize the opportunity. I can’t do it for him. Despite my efforts to control the input, I have very little control over the outcome.


The second flaw was that I moved from concern to worry. Worry isn’t healthy. Worry causes me to obsess about unrealistic possibilities that will never occur. Worry chases away trust and instead turns into fear for his safety and future.


Concern can be a good thing. It draws attention to problem areas, motivates us to action and encourages us to do the things we should. Worry however, is a worthless activity. This is especially true when we worry about things we can’t control or delude ourselves into thinking we can control them.


If the answer isn’t in me, where do I find the solution?


Many people believe the answers aren’t within us, but outside of us. They believe that the balm to our fears is found in communication with a divine being. They refer to this as prayer. It sounds good, and maybe you’ve dabbled in it and found the results occasionally effective. But often prayer feels like it should be a last resort, something to do when nothing else has worked and we’re in the beginning stages of giving up…

Giving up isn’t failure, it’s admitting our need.  When we get to the point of knowing how much we need God, we are ready to begin true prayer, and true parenting!


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