When life gets tough, a spiritual practice that deals with anxiety can make the difference between a whiny child and one that feels empowered to cope.
Prayers of lament provide an outlet for a child’s (or family’s) fears. They teach children to name what worries them and recall helpful resolutions to problems in the past. They also help children identify their hopes and affirm possibilities for the future. And they encourage children to wait and see what might happen rather than obsess about whatever has gone wrong.
Use the following questions to guide you and your child in lamenting:
- What are the things that threaten the health and well-being of our family? For younger children, ask: What things are you afraid will hurt you/our family?
- What stories from our family’s past (or from our religious tradition or cultural history) relate to these concerns? Can you think of any stories you’ve heard before that dealt with problems like these?
- How did these threats or problems get resolved in the past? What happened in the stories to fix the problem?
- What do we want to happen? How do you want this problem fixed?
- How can we be part of the solution? What can you do to help?
If your family spirituality includes belief in a divine being, use this alternative set of questions, substituting your name for divinity and your sacred text where you see ‘God’ and ‘bible’:
- What are the things that threaten the health and well-being of our family? What things are you afraid will hurt you/our family?
- What stories about God’s actions in the past relate to these concerns? Can you think of any stories from the bible in which God dealt with a problem like this before?
- How did God deal with the threat or problem in these stories? What did God do to fix the problem?
- What do you want God to do about these threats or problems? Let’s imagine how God could fix this.
- How can we be part of God’s solution? What would God want us to do to help?
Some families like to write a prayer based on their answers to the questions. Here’s an example of a prayer of lament written by two younger elementary children while their mom was battling cancer.
O Lord, the great and mighty, look down from your window, look down on earth and notice. Lord, go down your stairs and out your door, look down and see what is happening to our family. Do you not see our family in this hard time? My family and friends are in great pain – physical and emotional. I know you have saved others from strange diseases. And I ask if you can do the same for us: why can’t you help mommy so she can come home from the hospital? Let mom, like so many others, survive.