I’ve Never Told My Kids to “Bow Your Head and Close Your Eyes”

In a culture where 70% of young people (aged 18-30) leave church and quit attending, many falling away from their faith completely, we have to evaluate what’s going wrong.

As the church gets more and more wishy-washy and looks more and more like the world, we aren’t seeing attendance numbers rise.  Instead, they’re dropping even more.  Clearly pandering to the world and looking “cool” isn’t the answer.

One of the things my loved ones and I worry about are unbiblical dogmas.

A dogma is defined as a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. It serves as part of the primary basis of an ideology or belief system, and it cannot be changed or discarded without affecting the very system’s paradigm, or the ideology itself.

I have a few dogmas myself:

  • Jesus Christ is God.
  • Jesus died on the cross and rose again.
  • You must confess your sins to be saved – you can’t earn salvation by good works

… Just to name a few.

However, an unbiblical dogma, given to today’s savvy, emotional, and rebellion-driven youth, is picked to pieces in an instant as hypocrisy.

“We only use the King James Version of the Bible.”

“Men cannot preach unless ordained by a certain denomination.”

“Women can only wear skirts to be biblically feminine.”

I hope I didn’t step on any toes there, but these are cases of unbiblical dogmas.  Nowhere are these explicitly stated in the Bible.  To say you are in sin for breaking these preferences is wrong.

Maybe, for some of you, those examples were obvious.  Maybe you’d consider yourselves to be “open-minded” and “accepting.”

It sure is nice to love other people and to not “cast the first stone,” but I didn’t say that you can’t have preferences.  If, for some reason, I can only worship with one style of music, otherwise I find myself tempted to sin or my mind drifts away from God, then I should leave that church and find another. Maybe I’m the “weaker brethren,” but so be it.  If my husband decided I should only wear skirts (I probably wouldn’t have married him in the first place!), I should submit and then make a biblical appeal.  I have preferences – TONS of preferences – and I have the right to choose a church that suits those preferences – but you will never find me calling someone else out in sin for MY preferences.  At least, not anymore.  😉

Back to unbiblical dogmas.

Maybe we are grace-filled Christians who stick solely to our Bibles, but I want to challenge you to search your lives and hearts for things that are not exactly Biblical, especially in the area of parenting.  Like I said, as a musician, I can have strict preferences on music, but that doesn’t mean I will ever teach my children that drumsets are evil and of the devil, and people are in sin for using them.  Matter of fact, I’d probably keep my strong preferences to myself unless asked – raise them in the church my husband and I approve of, and then let them seek the Lord and His Word on what music they will adopt in the future.

There are so many little ways we impose nonsensical rules on our children.

It’s not our fault if they fall away and leave the church later in life, however, it doesn’t give us an excuse to be legalistic Pharisees with them either.

So many children are taught, “Bow your head and close your eyes to pray,” with discipline being doled out for when they fail to do so.

I recall, as a child, peeking and tattling on my sibling.  “He had his eyes open!”  To which, my godly mom would reply, “That means you had yours open too.”

I have never, ever told my children to “bow your head and close your eyes.  We’re going to pray now.”  

I’ve just never seen it in Scripture.  Prayer is not a man-invented formula.

And we wonder why our kids grow up and suddenly realize they’ve never known God at all!  So much of our relationship with God we make into a perfect script that we enforce on our children.

I pray with my eyes open, my hands on the wheel, driving and watching the road.  I pray while I’m scrubbing their little pink toes in the bathtub.  I pray while we walk outside.  And sometimes I pray with my eyes squeezed shut, on my knees beside my bed, my hands clasped together, tears dripping down my cheeks.

I’m talking to God.

If my child doesn’t know God, why would I require them to follow a bunch of hand motions and force them to pray?  I don’t believe in making the sign of the cross or clutching a string of beads when I pray, so why would I enforce a hand-clasping, eye-closing routine? This is a relationship with God, not a yoga move to check off my to-do list.

I’ve noticed that one child focuses better while stroking something with her hands, her eyes open.  She can tell us exactly what we prayed for when she does that.  The other likes to look down at the table.  Both of them say exactly what they want.  I’ve never scripted how they’re supposed to talk to God, besides teaching them what the Bible says about praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.  And I tell you, their beautiful, heartfelt prayers bless me more than anyone else’s.  If they’re not interested and looking around and not focusing?  Then God knows their heart.  Me enforcing a series of hand motions doesn’t guarantee them access into God’s presence and their sins to be washed clean.  They’ll pray when they truly know God, and, in the meantime, I continue to share the gospel with them over and over again, and pray a LOT, letting them hear and see and practically touch my relationship with God.  Sure, they need to be respectful and quiet when someone else is praying, but the rest needs to flow naturally from a changed heart.  Both were saved (I think!) at the age of three.  I have seen the Holy Spirit move them to care about prayer.  ❤

You know what else I don’t do?

Make them say, “I’m sorry.”

I make my children say, “I’m wrong.”  Because that’s objective.  Regardless of what they feel or think, their sin is wrong.  Teaching them to understand and vocalize right and wrong is my job as a parent.

They may never actually feel “sorry.”  I can’t make them say, “I’m sorry,” because being sorry is an emotion that only a regenerated heart, who is repentant, will feel.  Why do you think so many of our children thought they were saved?  Did they assume magic words made them repentant and sorry?

Were they ever taught that their heart is nothing but wicked and God must change it before they can even try to be sorry?

When my children follow up a confession of, “I was wrong for ____. Will you forgive me? I’m sorry!” it makes me rejoice, because I know that the feeling came naturally from them, and I did not force them to lie and say it when they didn’t mean it or repent of it in their heart.

The times that they don’t feel sorry or repentant?  They still have to say, “I was wrong for _____.  Will you forgive me?” and acknowledge that what they did was morally and spiritually sinful, even if they won’t repent.

I find that, later, after some prayer time, where they may stand with eyes wide open, with their hands outstretched like Moses (Ex 9:27), or kneeling down like Jesus in the garden (Lk 22:41) – because their posture and hands are up to them! – the Holy Spirit has convicted them of sin, and they return – truly sorry.

I also confess in the same way to them.  “I was wrong for getting angry with you.  I am so sorry.  That was so wrong.  Will you forgive me?”

Because I keep making mistakes too.  And I’ve probably got more unbiblical dogmas I haven’t uncovered yet.  I want to keep my faith 100% biblical and completely real with my children, so I better go get back to my knees – or maybe just sit at this computer desk (because there’s nothing that makes me more spiritual by being on my knees!  God can hear me just fine in my leather office chair!)

So thankful my kiddos always forgive me.  ❤

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20 thoughts on “I’ve Never Told My Kids to “Bow Your Head and Close Your Eyes”

  1. Ahhh, great post! Will share. 🙂 I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a dogma to most families to teach kids to pray that way or say “I’m sorry” no matter what, though. I doubt many parents think the Bible teaches those things. Most just uphold them as conventions, and to say they are “unbiblical” is probably incorrect. Rather, they are “extrabiblical” – rules that are additional to the Bible (and therefore not absolute), but not contained in it.

    We’ve been inconsistent on these sorts of examples in our house, I think…sometimes we ask them to fold their hands, rarely we ask them to shut their eyes, but we always ask them to be quiet for prayer because it is respectful. That’s the most important thing for us. We never *make them* pray, but we ask that they are respectful of our prayers at all times.

    And sometimes I ask them to confess, “I was wrong,” (which I am trying to be more consistent with) but I always ask them to say they’re sorry if they hurt someone – even if it was just an accident – because that’s the polite way to respond to injuring someone, even if they aren’t genuinely sorry in their hearts. Just my preference, of course! 🙂 There are things that may be extrabiblical rules but are still a good idea or a helpful method, and I don’t mind teaching my children some conventions (but not as dogmas!).

    One extrabiblical convention we don’t uphold is making the kids wait until after we pray before they eat. We let them start eating, and when we are all gathered we pray. *shrug* But I want to teach them the “proper” way, because they often get frowned on at grandparents’ houses because practically everyone considers it a rule to pray BEFORE eating – that, and it’s also polite to wait for everyone to be seated before eating, so it’s good manners.

    One consequence of being taught to pray with eyes closed is that it may become very difficult to pray with eyes open, because of internalizing the rule so much. We had the same rule growing up (and the same “He had his eyes open!!” tattling and the same parental response – hahaha!) and now as an adult I can barely pray with my eyes open. It feels unfocused and laden with distractions. And that’s a pain, because it’s very hard to pray while driving (because I keep blinking my eyes shut or else have trouble forming the prayer!) and I also have trouble praying while tired (I fall asleep because my eyes are shut!). So having that as a rule may make prayer more difficult – and more formal! – for children for the rest of their lives!

    Now I’m reevaluating my prayer habits! Haha. I should try to reverse this ingrained habit.

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    • Ahhhh, such good thoughts.

      “Extrabiblical.” I like that! Yeah, I’m sorry to imply that I was equating the prayer and “sorry” thing with KJV only or something like that. I didn’t mean these preferences and traditions were necessarily unbiblical – they could just be hypocritical if discipline is doled out – and the child is told they are in sin – for a preference or an “extrabiblical thing” as you so aptly put it!

      Same here – all growing up, I was told to wear only dresses and skirts to church. I thought I couldn’t worship God in pants. That’s one I’m trying to break in my own kids.

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      • Also good is the distinction between God’s rules and “house rules” or simple obedience to parents. I’ve felt hypocritical extending discipline for things before, only to realize that the infraction was not “jumping on the couch” (or whatever) but rather “disobeying parents,” which IS God’s rule.

        I’ve heard wearing skirts to church is a modern alternative to the headcovering commands, because it’s a modern way to denote gender differences. But I think the principle is to look feminine or masculine, respectively. One can be express one’s
        femininity in pants too! 🙂 Personally I like (preference!) to wear a skirt to church because I feel too casual in pants, since I rarely ever wear skirts in everyday life and church is a special event. But I can see how making that a rule would be very inhibiting! Any kind of dress code for worship is extrabiblical, really. 🙂

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      • Yes, totally true. In the end, your house rules have to be decided in wisdom and prayer, and then the kids are sinning because they disobey you. I just don’t want to, personally, have rules on prayer. 🙂

        I also still wear dresses and skirts, because I feel like I’m showing respect to God by dressing up. But I feel like there’s a judgmental attitude that sometimes comes up over it, and that concerns me. That shouldn’t ever be there. So I have started evaluating what are just preferences and traditions vs. true biblical rules.

        Shame on me if I ever make my adult children (someday) feel embarrassed or ashamed, if they are going to a godly church but wearing jeans!

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  2. I love this! Thank you! Parenting a special needs child who doesn’t ‘get’ these rituals I really needed this right now. To hear that someone found a way through what I am going through! Thank you!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this! It put a light to some of my legalistic habits ! I too agree that when we speak to our Lord that we do not have to be on our knees. Some of my most heartfelt conversations with Him have been behind my steering wheel or at my desk chair! I love you RJ & I also love your beautiful girls God has entrusted to your loving care!

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  4. Those are some really good thoughts from you and Bethany. “This is a relationship with God, not a yoga move to check off my to-do list” stuck with me the most. 🙂 What a wonderful way to look at prayer! I’ve started praying throughout the day with my eyes often because I just need to TALK to God. Sometimes my hands are full and I can’t exactly stop to bow my head and close my eyes. He’s always listening, whether my eyes are closed or not. (But I do find that I’m more focused in prayer when my eyes are closed and hands are folded) 😉
    I will share that my family purposely dresses up (Dad wearing a suit and tie, boys wear clean shirts with a collar and dress pants and girls wear skirts or dresses) for church because those are our “Sunday best” clothes. We believe that we ought to do so because God deserves our best.
    As for “I was wrong” I really like that. If I’m unwilling to say I’m sorry I just don’t say anything. By saying, “I was wrong” I can at least tell the other person that I realized that I have wronged them.

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    • What a fantastic preference, really. And one that I like as well. As you know, I also like to look my best for the Lord, as it puts me in a good frame of mind.

      However, it would only be wrong if you guys said everyone else was in sin for not dressing up (which I know you don’t.)

      You guys are a sharp-looking family. 🙂

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  5. An excellent post! where were you when I was a parent of young children? It would have probably been good for me to have had a grown up rachael in my life when i was in my 30s. Thank you, dear daughter! call me on it please if you see more of my dogmas. Love, Mom

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    • Hahaha. Where was I when you were a parent of young children? I WAS your young child! 😀 And I’m only the way I am because of your fantastic training, wisdom, and support. Couldn’t be where I am without you, and *I* am glad I have a YOU while I’m raising children. 😀

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  6. Pingback: What do Lady Gaga, Personality Types, and Rainbow Have in Common? | Blonde RJ

  7. Wonderful thoughts! I totally agree and am so sick of all the extra-biblical dogmas and rules! I try very hard to live according to what God’s Word has to say, but it is exhausting and impossible to try to please His people sometimes!

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    • I know! And our relationship with God is never about pleasing people. Otherwise we get into all of these mini-god scenarios where people and people’s opinions are elevated to a status that is almost biblical! Scary!

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