As a child, I was terrified of being asked to pray aloud. It always seemed like other people—usually adults—knew all the right words and how to string them together. And even if I thought my everyday words were good enough, there was the problem of focusing so hard on finding those words that I was no longer praying with my heart, only my mouth. If you assume this is something I just grew out of, you’d only be partially right.
Of course, it wasn’t (and isn’t) true that my prayers were less. After all, Jesus set apart special time for children whose requests and questions weren’t so different from mine.
Many adults benefit from written prayers to guide their conversations with God like The Book of Common Prayer or Every Moment Holy. The new book Little Prayers for Ordinary Days by Katy Bowser Hutson, Flo Paris Oakes (you may know Katy and Flo from Rain for Roots), and Tish Harrison Warren aims to do the same for children.
At first glance, this book of thirty short prayers is deceptively simple. But as a picture book writer, I can tell you it’s actually much easier to write lots of words than winnow down to just the few perfect words. These prayers are short not because they were written quickly, but because they were labored over. And though these prayers are made up of everyday language, they model many types of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, petition, repentance, requests for God’s closeness, and even statements of theology (e.g. reminders of God’s goodness or that he rested after creation).
It’s easy for children, or any of us, to fall into one kind of prayer. Often we’re asking God for things, which he loves for his children to do. But sometimes that’s the only thing we’re doing. I love that in these prayers, when something is asked of God, the prayer always closes with a reminder or praise of who God is. One example is the prayer “For when I have lost something,” which closes with the reminder that God “always, always, always comes after me to find me.” This helps reframe the child’s frustration with a reminder of the gospel.
Each prayer is short, just the right length for a child’s wandering attention span. But their brevity also models that longer prayers aren’t more holy or worthy than short ones. The prayers are short enough that a child will naturally memorize the ones they use frequently without even trying, giving their heart a language to use when they turn to God on their own.
You might be surprised to find prayers for taking a bath or brushing your teeth included in this book. But Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing. These prayers for everyday moments model what life can look like, giving kids the freedom to talk to God about everything, not just the big things. As the authors exhort their young readers in the forward, “There is nothing that you’re not allowed to say to God. God always listens. God always loves you. You can tell God anything.” Some of my favorite everyday prayers include “For reading a book,” “For making something,” and “For trying something new.”
This sweet book is full of simple, calming illustrations with plenty of white space. It’s small enough for little hands to hold or for a parent to tuck into a purse or backpack. Whether or not your child struggles to pray aloud, these prayers can be a helpful guide, prompting them to draw closer to their creator and reminding them, and you, of his love.
Carolyn Leiloglou is the author of Library’s Most Wanted and the Noah Green Junior Zookeeper series. Her poems and stories have been published in Highlights, Clubhouse Jr., Cricket, and more. You can find her on her blog, housefullofbookworms.com, where she reviews her favorite children’s books each month.