Circle of Grace: Praying with and for Your Children


"It is a well-known paradox of the spiritual life that when we gather together and focus our love and attention outward—on God's goodness and grace—we actually grow closer to one another. That is the secret of praying together as a family. . . ."
—Gregory and Suzanne Wolfe

Prayer, it has been said, is the natural language of the heart. Indeed, surveys reveal that Americans overwhelmingly believe in the power and efficacy of prayer. Yet many parents feel uncertain about introducing their children to prayer ...
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"It is a well-known paradox of the spiritual life that when we gather together and focus our love and attention outward—on God's goodness and grace—we actually grow closer to one another. That is the secret of praying together as a family. . . ."
—Gregory and Suzanne Wolfe

Prayer, it has been said, is the natural language of the heart. Indeed, surveys reveal that Americans overwhelmingly believe in the power and efficacy of prayer. Yet many parents feel uncertain about introducing their children to prayer because they themselves have forgotten—or never learned—how to pray. Consequently, their children too are kept in the dark, uncertain how to start, what to say. Now Circle of Grace gives parents the inspiration, confidence, and practical help they need to begin integrating prayer into the fabric of family life. This compelling book contains more than four hundred prayers from many faiths—as fresh and moving today as when they were first uttered.

Writing from their own experiences with family prayer, the authors answer such questions as: What is the best and most natural way to introduce your children to prayer? What if parents are of different faiths? Are there special times and places for praying? What if your child resists this intimate new family activity? Inside you'll discover prayers of praise and petition; for bedtime, mealtime, and birthdays; for holy days and the seasons; for sickness, death, and times of special need; for family, friends, even pets.

Praying with your children not only passes on a precious gift but also can become a source of spiritual renewal for parents—a chance to rejoin the pilgrim's path.With wisdom and common sense, Circle of Grace sets us on our way.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HIn an eloquent and thoughtful fashion, the Wolfes tackle an important but rarely written-upon subject: praying with one's children. "When your children begin to attend to the divine, they will become more deeply and fully human," the Wolfes, who have four children themselves, explain. They argue that children who "turn outward in prayer" by praying with family members "become far more vibrant individuals" than those who pray alone or with little guidance. The first half of the book is a wonderful treatise on praying with, and for, one's children, including some pointers on how to get started and how to overcome various obstacles (especially kids who don't want to pray). Pointing out that they are neither clergy nor theologians (he is publisher and editor of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, while she created and edits The Golden Key, a mail-order catalog of outstanding children's books), they call on their own experiences in parenting, friends' stories, and remarks from famous writers, such as child psychologist Robert Coles and poet W.H. Auden, to help parents along. The second part of the book includes prayers from various cultures; while predominantly Christian, the Wolfes also embrace from Native American, Jewish, African and Muslim traditions, mostly addressing rhythms of life, rites of passage, grace and blessings, thankfulness, and mindfulness of others' needs. This is a wonderful book for anyone who wishes to impart strong spiritual values to the children in their lives. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The authors, publishers and editors of works on children and faith, have produced an interesting and useful guide to a little-traveled territory. Their work is part handbook and part anthology, drawing not only on scriptural sources but sources as varied as Marian Wright Edelman and Navajo sweathouse chants. They are realistic enough to address subjects such as "Encountering Resistance" and "Giggles, Fidgets, and Prayers Gone Astray," and their selections are graceful and never patronizing to parents or children. Their outlook is principally Christian, but the traditions of other faiths are at least acknowledged. Most devout parents will find this a useful starting point. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345417176
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/14/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.41 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory and Suzanne M. Wolfe are the parents of four children.  With William Kilpatrick, they have written The Family New Media Guide and Books That Build Character.  Gregory serves as Writer in Residence at Seattle Pacific University.  He is the publisher and editor of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, one of America's leading quarterlies, and is the author of several books, including Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography.  Suzanne teaches English literature at Seattle Pacific University and is currently working on her first novel.  Both Gregory and Suzanne hold degrees from Oxford University.  They live in Seattle, Washington.
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Read an Excerpt

Is there anything more pure, more full of wonder and hope for the future,
than the prayer of a child? We find it difficult to imagine what that
might be. For a child's heart, when it forms a prayer of thanks or praise
or petition, has none of the self-consciousness and ambivalence of
adulthood; it is a laser beam of light and love—focused, clear, and
burning with urgency.

Prayer is natural to human beings, whether they are children or grown-ups.
It takes place all the time, and not just in churches and synagogues. As
Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin has pointed out, we pray even when we don't
realize we're praying. "Thank God!" we sigh in relief, on hearing that
someone we love has begun to recover from a serious illness and is out of
danger. Some prayers don't even invoke God's name: a gorgeous sunset might
evoke a murmured response ("How glorious!") that is really an act of
praise; a guilty conscience might bring us back to someone we've hurt
("Forgive me"), as our desire for reconciliation reaches upward as well as

But prayer, like many other human capacities, will atrophy if it is not
used and developed. Children possess an innate ability to pray, just as
they have a built-
in capacity to learn language. Most people wouldn't dream of being silent
all the time around a child; we not only talk in the presence of our
children but we devote a great deal of time to teaching them words and
their proper meanings, pronunciations, and grammatical relationships. As
parents, we help our children learn to name and thus understand the world
around them.

Prayer is a particular form oflanguage (though it often aspires to go
beyond words) that children can pick up with the same ease as they do any
other kind of speech. But the tragic reality is that those of us who live
in the prosperous Western nations have largely failed, in recent
generations, to teach our children the language of prayer. This failure,
this neglect of our children's spiritual dimension, has had grave
consequences for the moral and psychic health of our culture.

If you are reading this book, the odds are that you care deeply for
children and want to find ways to enrich their lives and deepen their
hearts through prayer.
The moral decay that now permeates our culture places
children at greater risk than ever before: violence, drugs,
teenage pregnancy, and suicide loom like the Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse over our children's lives. The number of incidents where
children commit violent, senseless crimes is on the rise. As we write, the
horror of the Littleton, Colorado, high school massacre is still sending
shock waves through America.

Even if the vast majority of our children will never directly experience
the extremes of violence or criminal behavior, there is a widespread
feeling that the innocence and idealism of youth cannot survive in such a
cynical and materialistic society. We worry about a generation growing up
whose emotions and moral sensibilities are blunted, and we say that
something needs to be done.

But what can be done? Our first impulse—an impulse that is quickly taken
up by politicians—is to restrict children's access to bad things. So we
propose stricter gun control laws and install V-chips in our TV sets.
There is much to be said for such measures, but most people recognize
their limits. In the long run it is what lies inside children's
hearts—rather than externals like guns and violent movies—that will
determine their behavior and their future. Nurturing a child's heart is a
task that takes years of love and attention; it's not a task that can be
accomplished by legislation, however well intentioned.

That's why more and more parents are questioning the moral health of our
culture. Now that they are parents themselves, recent generations—from
boomers to Generation Xers—are rethinking the abandonment of traditional
values and disciplines and are casting about for ways to instill moral
values in their children without repeating the sins of smugness and
narrow-mindedness committed by earlier generations.

Celebrating the virtues has rightly become an important element of
character education. But too often discussion of the virtues remains
abstract, as if classroom discussions about courage will make children
courageous. We do need to talk more—particularly around the dinner
table—about morality, but the limitation of talk is that it remains a
thing of the head and not the heart.

The secret to your child's moral and spiritual development is this: your
child should not simply admire goodness, but should actually fall in love
with goodness. The Greek philosopher Plato believed that in order to live
a full human existence we must develop a feeling of eros for the Good.
Today we associate the word eros with "erotic," or merely sexual, love,
but for the Greeks eros conveyed a passion that involved the whole of a
person's character.

Traditionally, it was in reading—and listening to—stories, including the
great epic tales of heroes, that children developed eros for the good, the
true, and the beautiful. Storytelling anchors the virtues in the
experience of believable characters. Through the miracle of imagination, a
child can enter into a sympathetic relationship with the heroes of great
literature, vicariously experiencing both their mistakes and their
achievements. In previous books we have written on the relationship
between storytelling and virtue, stressing the need to expose children to
books and films that exemplify the moral imagination.

But in addition to storytelling, there is another path to a child's moral
development: prayer. We have become convinced that prayer can become an
essential part of a child's emotional and psychological growth—helping to
bridge the gap between knowing what is good and doing what is good.

For most of the twentieth century—one of the most
secular periods in human history—prayer was not some-
thing that one discussed in public. Even when prayer wasn't dismissed
outright as a relic of primitive religion, it was reduced to something
that was utterly
private and individualistic. Of course, prayer is an intensely private
experience in the soul of each human being, but so is romantic love,
marriage, patriotism, and nearly every other affair of the heart. Yet in
all these other realms we recognize that private experience intersects
with universal truths, truths that we can and must address publicly.

At the dawn of the new millennium, prayer is no longer taboo. For the sake
of our children and our future, it is time that we explore this ancient
and hallowed means for reaching out beyond our human limitations to seek a
higher power.

Of course, the first thing that many of us say to ourselves when we
consider whether we should bring prayer into the life of our family is
"How can I teach my kids to pray if I don't know how to pray myself?"
There's the rub. It's at this point that many of us hesitate, perched on
the knife-edge between good intentions and the challenge of putting them
into practice.

Scientists have a phrase for the way human beings absorb new information:
they call it the learning curve. In most cases the learning curve is steep
at first, as we struggle to understand both the basic concepts and the
finer points. But after a while the curve levels off and we become able to
assimilate new ideas more quickly.

The learning curve for prayer can appear formidably steep and
intimidating. But it is just at the moment of hesitation that grace lies
in wait for us. When parents hesitate to teach children something they
don't know themselves, they have already stepped out onto the right path,
though they may not recognize it. Most of us sense that prayer is
something that we must practice before we can preach it. This desire to
avoid hypocrisy is in itself a step in the direction of spiritual
authenticity. In the life of the spirit, wanting is often the same as
having. The twentieth-century French novelist Georges Bernanos once said:
"The wish to pray is a prayer in itself. . . . God can ask no more than
that of us." And fifteen hundred years ago St. Augustine prayed: "We would
not seek You if we had not already found You."

And that brings us to the purpose of this book. It is our hope that we can
provide encouragement—and a little help with the learning curve—as you
embark on the adventure of praying with your children.

Of course, it is possible to purchase one of the hundreds of collections
of prayers for children on the market and give it to your children. But,
to return to the analogy we used above, that would be a little like giving
a two-year-old a dictionary and wishing her luck.

The central thesis of this book is that parents need to do more than
simply give their kids prayers to say. Rather, parents should learn to
pray themselves by praying with their children. This leads directly to the
other conviction at the core of this book: that there is nothing wrong
with making family prayer the springboard that helps you to develop your
own interior life. The first thing that attentive parents discover when
they teach their children to pray is that the children quickly become the
teachers, reminding us of the innocence and wonder that we have lost, and
restoring it to us with a grace and simplicity that can take our breath

In writing Circle of Grace we have tried to produce something that is more
than just a manual of prayer. We've taken a few tentative steps in the direction of what we can only call the spirituality of family life. In the course of assembling this book we found—to our amazement—that very little has been written about the relationship between the ordinary, everyday experiences of living together as a family and the inner world of the spirit. Our emphasis, then, is not simply on the how-to of prayer but also on the moral and emotional contexts in which family prayer can take place.

We're not going to pretend that we're a Super Family—clean-cut, well
adjusted, full of greeting-card sentiments. Not hardly. We snap at each
other when we're tired. We try—and fail—to balance work and family time.
We struggle on a daily basis with selfishness, resentment, and anxiety. To
put it delicately, we are an expressive family, which sometimes means that
all six of us are screaming at one another at the top of our lungs. On the
other hand, we are also a physically demonstrative bunch—hugging, kissing,
biting, wrestling, and so on. For better or worse, no emotion is repressed
in the Wolfe household. And yet somehow we manage to hang in there, find
the time to calm down, and even lift our voices in prayer. Slowly but
surely, prayer has become an essential part of our cohesiveness as a

It is all too easy, when addressing the subject of children and prayer, to
slip into sentimentality and a pious, otherworldly tone—what the poet Patricia Hampl calls the "eau de cologne language of spirituality." We've tried to avoid that mind-set like
the plague it is. On the contrary, we'd like to think of ourselves as spiritual realists. As every parent knows quite well, family life is an exercise in barely contained chaos: babies
crying, older kids rampaging, parents struggling with exhaustion and a day that is never long enough. Family prayer times are commonly beset by fidgeting, bickering kids, ringing phones, distractions galore. In these circumstances it isn't likely that we will find mystical illumination, or even emotional uplift.

That's why it is so important to remember that prayer is an art. Like any
art, prayer requires us to overcome the powerful force of inertia. The
life of the spirit requires time and discipline to grow; you can't just
take a few prayers, add water, and expect instant holiness. The self-help
industry has generated a lot of revenue by promising seven (or some other quasi-sacred number) "easy steps" to healing, wisdom, and prosperity. But the great spiritual masters
know that the only effective steps are the small ones that we take every day of our lives—just like a one-year-old learning to walk.

Our hope is that this book will also serve as a hallway, and that you will
move on into the rooms where you can find nourishment and comfort. To that
end, we've included an annotated bibliography that includes several
classic and contemporary works from a variety of religious traditions.

It is our earnest hope that you will unlock your child's—and your
own—potential for the divine conversation that is prayer. It is a
well-known paradox
of the spiritual life that when we gather together and focus our love and
attention outward—on God's goodness and grace—we actually grow closer to
one another. That is the secret of praying together as a family.

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