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Praying Beyond the Prayer Card

Are our prayers for our children only American, middle-class dreams for kids, proof-texted and baptized in Christianese?

Published on:
August 23, 2019
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4 min.
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About five months ago it hit me: I need to pray for my daughter. She was two months old and I was slowly emerging from the newborn baby haze. And while I’d certainly prayed for my daughter since I knew I was carrying her in my womb, I lacked intentionality, purpose, and thought in my prayers. They mainly consisted of, “Lord, may she be healthy, know that she’s loved by you, and Lord, please let her sleep.”

While that evening revelation convicted me, I also grappled with my tiredness and lack of initiative. So I took to Google, ordered a set of beautiful prayer cards, and waited for them to arrive at my home.

As I unboxed them, their beauty and design immediately stood out to me. Yet as I took the time to actually read the prayers listed on the seven cards, I found myself surprised and saddened. Not one of them discussed community, church, or love of neighbor.

Many of the cards simply stated American, middle-class dreams for kids, proof-texted and baptized in Christianese.

The prayers on those cards reflected how American, middle-class values of radical individualism, personal fulfillment, and self-actualization have dimmed our vision for parenting. 

Many of the cards simply stated American, middle-class dreams for kids, proof-texted and baptized in Christianese. For example, one of the cards instructs parents to “pray that your children would grow up to be people of wisdom and integrity and that they will have godly character and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.” 

On the surface there is nothing wrong with the prayer, and I do hope those things will be true in my daughter’s life. Who wouldn’t want their child to have wisdom, integrity, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? But I need to interrogate why I want my daughter to possess these virtues. These attributes are lauded in non-Christian circles too, viewed as necessary for happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment. I’m realizing that the distinction is not often what we pray for our children, but why we pray and what hopes we have envisioned for our children as we pray for them.

The Telos of Prayer

James K.A. Smith writes in his book You are What You Love, “The place we unconsciously strive toward is what ancient philosophers of habit called our telos—our goal, our end. But the telos we live toward is not something we primarily know or believe or think about; rather, our telos is what we want, what we long for, what we crave. It is less an ideal that we have ideas about and more a vision of ‘the good life’ that we desire.”

I’m realizing more and more that my telos informs my prayers for my daughter. My prayers also reveal the telos. And so often that telos is the same as the culture around me—I want safety and comfort, academic and professional success, a respected reputation in my community, and financial security. The only difference is that Christianity is merely the mechanism I use to meet it. As I look at my prayers, I’m challenged to go to scripture and let it reshape my vision of “the good life,” and then let that new vision reshape my prayers.

The true distinction in Christian parenting isn’t what we hope for our children, but why we hope for such things. While there’s nothing wrong with desiring, hoping, and praying for safety, a spouse, and educational and professional success, they can’t be the end goal of my prayers. From where I sit, I should pray that wisdom, character, and integrity will overflow from my daughter’s relationship with God and include a hope that she will be a blessing to her community.

From where I sit, I should pray that wisdom, character, and integrity will overflow from my daughter’s relationship with God and include a hope that she will be a blessing to her community.

Instead of praying that she’ll marry someone who loves the Lord and that the Lord will prepare that person to be a godly spouse, I want to pray that she’ll trust the Lord, live on mission in community, and find contentment whether she marries or remains single

Instead of praying that she will make an impact for the kingdom of God (which makes it sound as if the kingdom of God is simply the landscape in which I can exercise self-fulfillment), I pray that she’ll live selflessly with her neighbor in mind.

Instead of praying that she will serve the Lord with her whole heart, I’m praying that the radical message of the gospel will cause her to question everything broader culture tells her about how she should spend her money, where she should live, and what type of job she should take. 

I realize that these shifts may seem subtle, but they signal a notable difference in how I’m thinking about and praying for my daughter and her future.

A Deeper Vision of the Good Life

My husband and I named our daughter Phoebe after the woman Paul mentions in the final remarks of his letter to the Romans. We only get two verses about her, but one of the main things that strikes me about that brief passage is the way Paul describes her: a sister, a servant to the church, and a benefactor to many.

As I look at the prayer cards I ordered a few months ago, they don’t mesh well with the way Paul talks about Phoebe. The cards list various attributes of what my daughter will be and do. I’m realizing that I need to pray about who she’ll become.

With that as the vision of the good life, I’m able to pray for my daughter with boldness and confidence, with fear and trembling, with hope and excitement of what her life might become.

I no longer want a list of simplistic prayers supported by isolated Bible verses to inform my petitions to God for my daughter. I need a robust vision of the life God casts in his word, a life that is not defined by radical individualism, personal fulfillment, and self-actualization via Christianity. Instead, I need a vision that is informed by our identity as adopted children of God who are members of the household of faith. Only then will I invite others into that household and faithfully act as an agent of restoration in light of God’s promise to make all things new.

With that as the vision of the good life, I’m able to pray for my daughter with boldness and confidence, with fear and trembling, with hope and excitement of what her life might become. I think a good place to start is to pray that she’ll bear the titles of her namesake—sister, servant, and generous benefactor.

Abigail Murrish
Abigail Murrish lives in Norwood, Ohio where she works for her church and curates the newsletter “Given Appetites.” You can subscribe to her newsletter and find her online at abigailmurrish.com.

Cover image by Sai De Silva

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