It’s a Wonderful Life

 This post is the fifth installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development.  For more information about this series, click here.  Carol & I met exactly two years years ago, on Halloween.  My husband was preaching his “candidacy” sermon and I had just had our second child, Drew.  Needing to nurse {in the middle of church}, another now-dear friend brought me into Carol’s office.  There was a rocking chair, just like mine at home.  I used her office space to feed Drew and felt her welcome from the start.  Carol is my husband’s co-worker, but I count her as a dear mentor, teacher, encourager & friend.  As she mentions in this post, she loves to share prayers via email and texts and I have been the blessed recipient of many….at just the right time.  Her words below spoke some deep truth to me and I hope you find them just as encouraging.  

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is my all-time favorite holiday movie.  I MUST watch it every Christmas even though I can quote every line from it and even though bringing it out produces groans from most members of my family.  (I should say here, that my sweet husband has watched it with me every year of our 26-year marriage without fail.  What a guy!)  I love the themes of self-sacrifice, rising above evil and ultimately realizing how one affects so many others in this life.

 

A quick synopsis of the movie (and really, if you haven’t seen it yet, it is time).  The life of the main character, George Bailey, is a study in hardship, frustration and lost dreams. Time after time, happiness seems just around the corner for George, only to be lost at the last moment. More precisely, George consistently chooses to give up on his dreams for the sake of the greater good: his dreams of traveling to Europe; his college plans; even his Bermuda honeymoon.

 

Life seems to be looking up for George after marrying his high school sweetheart, moving into and fixing up an old mansion, and working to help low-income residents of Bedford Falls get into affordable housing.  However, everything seems to fall apart on Christmas Eve when a huge chunk of money from the Building and Loan goes missing and bankruptcy seems eminent.  A frantic search turns up nothing, and George takes his frustrations out on his family.  He becomes annoyed at his daughter’s piano playing, yells about the drafty house and the loose stair post and he even questions his very own family life. “You call this a happy family?  Why do we have to have so many kids anyway?”

And what happens next?  Prayer.  After George storms out, the oldest son immediately asks his mother, if he should pray.  She responds with a fervent, “Yes!” and Tommy wants to join in.  I love this.  And here is one thing I would guess.  Prayer was modeled for him.  I know it is just a movie, but they are real to me!  My guess is that prayer was modeled in that home, and mostly likely by Mary, the mother.  We learn later in the bar, that George does turn to God in prayer but confesses that he is not a praying man.

Prayer seems so simple.  But really, what better faith lesson can we teach our children than to model prayer?  And not just the “say-a-prayer-before-we-eat” kind of prayer or the obligatory bed-time prayer, but rather praying together unceasingly.  Paul encourages us to pray continually.  But how do we really do that with our children?

Here is where I wish I could tell you that I prayed unceasingly with my three children and then tell you my three step-plan of how you can do that too to live a happy and fulfilled life. I was never much good at three-step plans.  But honestly, I did not model this very well.  When my kids were little, it was easy to pray with them when they hurt themselves, or pray together after a particularly hard battle between us.  But as they got older, those times of spontaneous prayer together became fewer and further between.  Sure I kept praying FOR them but I managed to forget to pray WITH them.  Life got busy, teenagers got ornery, and places of struggle started to outweigh the places of joy.

These past few years have been particularly difficult in my family.  I felt much like George Bailey as he prayed in the bar, “If you’re up there and can hear me, show me the way.  I’m at the end of my rope.  Show me the way, God.”  And then when I could no longer pray, the whole town started praying—well not the whole town, but a whole lot of people committed to praying for us and our situation.  Slowly, and certainly with a lot of ups and downs, I felt lifted up by the prayers of the people.  God began restoring my soul as I opened up to admitting places of powerlessness in my life.   The feelings of despair slowly began to unfurl into hope.  The overwhelming cloud of sadness gave way to moments of delight.  And I felt God whispering in my ear, “Remember to talk to me.”

Prayer.  That is all it is.  Talking to the God of this Universe.  Telling God our joys, our hopes, our fears, our failures.  God just wants to hear from us.  And so I have decided that it is never too late to start modeling what God is teaching me to my children.  Now instead of telling them I will pray FOR them, I just pray WITH them.  Send a text prayer, or an email prayer, or a Facebook prayer–but not on their wall, in a message!  Sometimes I grab the one child I still have at home and pray over that favorite hat that she lost or the trouble she is having with a friend or whatever is bubbling up for her.  I trust that praying with my children lets them know that I believe in a God that wants to be in relationship with me.  My hope is that modeling this with them will encourage them to be in prayer themselves.  My ultimate desire is to talk to my Creator God unceasingly and to teach my children the joy of this relationship.

Carol is the Director of Children’s Ministry at Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church where she has served for the past 15 years.  After marrying her college sweetheart, the two moved around the country having a baby in each state they lived.  (They are not moving again!)  They have three children, Jackson (21), Cameron (18) and Savannah (14).  Carol is passionate about children and faith, forming and attending small groups, and singing and music.  On the not so spiritual side, Carol religiously watches Parenthood, Glee and, yes, Dancing with the Stars.  Favorite pastimes include long, leisurely Sunday lunches with her husband between church services, meeting up with friends for any reason and curling up with a good book.  The kind with a cover and pages to turn.

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