The Dangerous Prayer I'm Learning to Pray

Lately, I’ve been asking God for something that makes me sweat. Each time I say it, it’s like I’m dangling not only me but also my kids out over a precipice—on the edge of disaster. The words get stuck in my throat—some days more than others. And while my journey to this prayer came through motherhood, it’s not really about being a parent at all. But rather, about trust and letting go.

Since becoming “mama” in 2009, I’ve essentially prayed different versions of the same prayer for my boys:

God, guard and protect their hearts and their minds.

May they love You and chase You with everything they have.

The first part was for their protection, for those circumstances beyond what I could control (or at least what I had imagined I could control). The second was that Jesus would be their main desire, because more than anything, I want my kids to want God for themselves.

While nothing is inherently wrong with these prayers, they seemed to be missing an essential ingredient.

For what felt like the one hundredth time that week, I watched yet another God-less scene play out in my living room: Son #1 intentionally and incessantly pestering son #2, who responded with cutting remarks and eyes of fury. Meanwhile, son #3 stole a toy from son #4, who then took it upon himself to dole out punishment.

Everyone was screaming. No one was remorseful. And as I pried them off each other, my heart ached—not because of their childish behavior, but because I knew I couldn’t make them change. I could hold them accountable for their actions and explain God’s heart in the situation, but beyond that, I was helpless to force true change. Because even reformed behavior is not a guarantee of a repentant heart.

I thought about all the times growing up when I did what my parents asked—but inwardly I seethed. My chest burned in silent rage while I faked a smile and went to my room to make my bed or write an apology. I did the thing, and though my body was willing, my actions even seeming remorseful, my soul warred inside me. I was anything but changed.

So after my boys’ tussle, in a quiet moment with God, I asked, “How can I help them want to know You? What am I doing wrong?”

As I thought about my kids and where they seemed to be in relation to God, I realized: How can I expect them to invite God into their lives and if they don’t understand their NEED for Him?

My boys didn’t yet understand the fragility and fallenness of their own skin. And why would they? Why would they change when they didn’t see a need—beyond pleasing me or not getting into trouble? Neither of which is sustainable. Sooner or later, actions give way to what’s rooted in the heart.

But praying that they would know their need for Him felt dangerous.

You see, much of my own need for God was revealed through some really tough circumstances. Granted, not all of it. Sometimes God came softly, revealing Himself in sunsets and kindness from stranger. But those big shifts in my soul—the ones that showed how much I needed Him—well, those revelations didn’t come lightly. Time after time, I saw my need after suffering consequences and feeling deep remorse, or when I came to the end of myself in the wake of a friend’s rejection, the passing of grandparents, dashed dreams and expectations, anxiety, depression, and the death of a son.

While I knew all these things caused me to lean harder into God’s grace and that I am better for it, I struggled to want any of it for my kids. No mama wants her kids to hurt. So I asked God: How can I pray that they would realize their need for You, knowing that they might just need some tough stuff to get there?

The answer was simple: As much as I want my kids to be healthy, happy, and safe, I want them to know Jesus more.

And so reluctantly, my heart pounding, I forced these words through gritted teeth,

God, help my boys know how much they need You.

From the get-go, I knew these words didn’t hold some magical power—as if by saying the prayer, my kids would suddenly ask for forgiveness, obey every time, or think of others first. Jesus is not a genie waiting for us to find the right combination of nouns and verbs. No, this prayer was not for today, not for instant gratification, but for the long haul.

So far, I’ve seen little change in my kids. But the prayer is certainly reworking some things in me.

It has become a prayer of letting go, of easing up my white-knuckled grasp on my kids and their spiritual lives. Daily, I speak the words with shaky faith, trusting that God loves them more than I do, wants them to know Him more than I understand, and will pursue them better than I ever could. He will draw them to Himself in His own time and His own way. He will be relentless.

And in this prayer, I have found new freedom. I’m allowing space for God to do His work and for me just to be their mama. Yes, I do my best to obey God by loving them and leading them well. I speak about Him often. But because my job is not to contrive conviction in their hearts, I just get to enjoy them. As the Holy Spirit does His work, I become a spectator and supporter as their stories unfold. I get to be a witness when their eyes come alive after helping a homeless veteran or they smile big toothy grins over a girl they met at the pool. I get to share truth and wisdom without the pressure of forcing repentance, because that’s simply not my job. And that’s where the freedom lies.

The prayer is still not easy for me to pray. But I know that transforming grace—in them and in me—isn’t the result of living a risk-free life, but falling headlong into the arms of Jesus. While I don’t want to be the one who pushes them, I also don’t want to be the one who gets in the way.

And so I pray, “God, help them to know how much they need You,” trusting that whatever “it” is that reveals the need, God loves them more and will catch them in the free fall.