God has called parents to a difficult task. We are called to prevent the giant pile of children’s laundry from overtaking the house, cook meals for picky eaters, and clean up never-ending messes. But most importantly, we are given the eternally significant duty to “bring [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
It can be a tiresome undertaking. Some days you plunge headlong into another challenging day of childrearing, praying God will help you make it to bedtime alive. After the bath and toothbrushing, and fetching a glass of water, and the search for the lost stuffed animal, and the barrage of excuses trying to delay lights out, you’re tempted to skip prayer time, say a quick goodnight, shut the door, and crumb into the nearest sofa.
I want to suggest two modest prayers to help you slow down during those moments when you tuck the kids into bed. This isn’t a list of theoretical principles or a fifteen-item list of prayer requests for your kids. Weary parents need simple and memorable prayers. When your mind is still spinning from the day’s labors, may these three-word prayers enable you to take the few extra moments to linger with your children in the quietness of bedtime.
“Father, forgive me.”
The best way to avoid putting your children to bed in frustration or anger is to remind yourself and your kids that you, too, are a sinner in need of forgiveness. Confess your parenting failures to God before your children. Plead with him to protect your children from your anger, lack of patience, and failure to display the gospel in all its glory. Ask the Father for forgiveness in front of your children.
In doing so, you set an example for your children. They see what it looks like to be a child of God. Our Father does not want us to hide our sins from him or one another. He wants us to confess them so that he can “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In the still moments before they fall asleep, they will get to listen as you experience reconciliation with the Father anew. They get to watch as the grace of the gospel washes over your spirit, reviving your weary soul.
“Father, forgive them.”
I often look into the eyes of my little boys after they have hit their brother or yelled in disobedient anger, searching with the question: “Why did you do this?” The most common response I receive is: “I don’t know.” In those sad moments, I’m reminded of Christ’s prayer as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That is the state of our children’s hearts. When they sin, they don’t always fully comprehend what they’ve done or why they’ve done it. As parents, we must imitate Jesus by pleading for God’s mercy and forgiveness for our kids with the simple prayer, “Father, forgive them.”
Each night, God will begin to cultivate in us the compassionate heart of Jesus. He sees our children as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). As we pray, the irritations of the day will melt into gentle, soft pleading on behalf of our children who do not comprehend the wrath that awaits sinful and grumbling souls who do not repent. When it comes to this kind of intercessory prayer, Paul tells us, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3–4).
Ultimately, this is a prayer of trust. It tells God, “I trust you with the life of this child. I trust the gospel. I trust that you want to save sinners, just like my little boy, my little girl.” God has placed that child in your family and under your loving care for a purpose. Plead with him to forgive through the blood of Jesus and pray that in his good time he will bring salvation.
A Father to You and Your Children
Both prayers begin with one of the most gracious words in the Christian parent’s vocabulary: Father. In the midst of parenting failures and struggles, it’s easy to forget that we have a heavenly Father who is watching over us in love. No one can put it better than the apostle: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1).
At the end of a taxing day, as you kneel bedside with your kids, find comfort in the Father who is also laying your tired heart to rest. The final moments before your children fall asleep could become your most treasured moments together. May these prayers help your family grow in the grace of God our Savior.