One of the most difficult tasks of a parent is teaching our children to pray. It is one thing to pray at the dinner table before we eat and it is another thing to pray and intercede for others. It is also difficult to organize our families around prayer times rather than rushing and trying to fit prayer in when we can.
The journey to teaching our children to pray involves the following aspects:
1. Prayer has to be seen as essential.
2. Prayer is a bodily function as it is a spiritual one.
3. There are different types of prayer.
4. Suffering is a prayer.
1. Prayer has to be seen as essential
When I was living with my parents, I witnessed over and over again that prayer was essential. In the mornings I would come upstairs and my parents would be praying and reading their Bibles. We grew up below the poverty line and I constantly witnessed my Dad and Mom praying that God would help them make ends meet every month. We prayed for healing when we got hurt. We prayed for others that were suffering. We prayed because we were thankful. Prayer was essential.
2. Prayer is a bodily function as it is a spiritual one
When we pray, we pray with our bodies. Our soul and body make up one person. They are so intricately connected that when I touch your hand I can say that I am touching you. In fact, it is difficult to pray without our bodies (maybe even impossible) as we need to our brain to bring to our memory what to pray for. We pray with our mouths and our thoughts and our imagination, in song, and in chant. We also pray with the posture of our body be it hands raised or kneeling or prostrate. When we pray our body and our soul are praying.
3. Different types of prayer
There are different types of prayer. There is time spent in simple adoration as before the Blessed Sacrament. There is intercessory prayer where we pray for those who depend on our prayers. Praying the Psalms is another type of prayer that monks use - where we pray the Psalms on behalf of those who need those words and prayers at that time. There are novenas - where we commit to praying for 9 days straight for a specific intention. There are prayers of the heart, prayers with beads like the chaplets and the rosary. We pray to the saints for their intercession and help. Prayers to our guardian angels and liturgical prayers. Prayers of repentance. Then of course there is the Holy Mass, the greatest prayer of all.
4. Suffering is a prayer
When we suffer, our suffering can be redemptive. We can unite our suffering with that of Christ's. This gives our suffering purpose and power. Many saints suffered stigmata, infirmities, deformities and with joy. Blessed Margaret of Castello stated that she would endure any suffering if it would mean that one soul would be brought closer to Christ. The key is to constantly remind our children (and ourselves) that we need to offer up our suffering as a prayer for others and be joyful through it.
How do we teach our children to pray?
a. Prayer must be modelled to the children by the parents, especially by the father.
b. Schedule prayer into your day. Morning and evening prayers with your family to begin and crown your day.
c. Use dinner time to teach new prayers while the food cools. We often learn learn and practice prayers in Latin before we eat.
d. Pray novenas as a family.
e. Celebrate patron saints and invoke their intercession on their saint days.
f. Have the children take turns praying with their own words.
g. Schedule adoration time weekly with the children in front of the Blessed Sacrament. We use Peter Kreeft's acronym when in adoration: A TRIP - Adore, Thanksgiving, Repent, Intercession, Petition.
h. Pray with the Church in her intentions (through the Pope) and through the seasons. Eg: Pray at cemetery during the octave of All Soul's Day. Pray the Stations of the Cross during Lent. Pray a Christmas novena. Pray in the procession on Corpus Christie and so on.
i. Teach and facilitate fasting food/sweets during Lent and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and all Fridays. Fasting is not only a powerful prayer (as Christ tells us), but is also an act of penance and it strengthens our will power to resist temptation.
j. Do a family examination of conscience every night and don't let the children go to bed angry at one another. You'll be amazed at the apologies that come out at night as they reflect on their day.
k. Pray the rosary daily as Our Lady has asked us to do many times.
l. Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet on Fridays.
m. Insist that your children linger after Holy Mass and not rush out of the sanctuary to play. Lingering in thanksgiving of Whom was just received is not only appropriate, but respectful, worthy and essential.
n. Teach children reverence. This is the part of praying with your body. We kneel when we address the King of the Universe. We don't demand of our earthly father, so we don't demand of our Heavenly Father. Genuflect upon entering a Church. There is a time for silence (like at Holy Mass) and this is the expectation.
o. Memorize prayers. Sometimes (many times) my words fail me. It is the prayers of the saints that express what I feel better than I. In these times, their beautiful words and prayers and reflections need to be at my fingertips (or rather at the tip of my tongue).
p. Use candles, snuffers, icons, crucifixes, and prayer books to help the children focus.
q. Pray lots.
If you endeavour to journey down this road, know that it won't be easy. It is the last thing that Satan wants. Children will begin to cry. Babies will scream. A boy will pass gas. A rosary will break. A fight will break out over a piece of dried wax. A sister will kick a brother because their foot is 1 inch to close to their precious knee. And on and on.
But persist. Don't give up. Pray despite it all.