In my family, praying together is one of the things that helps to bond and center us. It’s a way to connect and learn about each other on a deeper level. I speak to many parents who would like to teach their children to pray and are interested in integrating family prayer into their lives. They just aren’t sure how to get started. Oftentimes, they do well with their prayer routine for a week or two before it fades away. The busyness of life and frustrations with trying to pray together overtake the initiative.
Here are my 3 tips to getting started with family prayer time in a way that’s sustainable:
- Set expectations- and set them LOW. In terms of concentration, depth of prayer, time, and so on.
- Give yourself a lot of leeways to improvise- since let’s be honest- children often cause us to go off-script! Let it be OK if your child is just present even if he’s doing a puzzle, coloring, or walking around the room. It’s much more important to make prayer a frequent part of your life than to make it anywhere close to perfect. Even if your child is smashing trucks together, wandering off, reading books, or seemingly uninterested – if he hears the family praying and gets used to prayer happening on a consistent basis despite everything else going on in the family – the consistency is what will stick.
- Decide what the purpose is. For my wife and I, our goal is that our children see us praying and begin to imitate the behavior. As they get older, they can then develop their own prayer life based on the foundation we’ve provided.
In our home, I lead family prayer in the evenings. We all sit around, sometimes kneeling around the coffee table (but since we got new flooring it kind of hurts our knees, so I guess we need to find a new spot!). Sometimes we pray at the dining room table if we’re already reading a story or coloring – some of our favorite evening wind down activities in our house.
Wherever the location happens to be that evening, I like to go around and ask each family member what they’d like to pray for. Sometimes it’s deep stuff like praying for a sick relative or friend, to do well on an upcoming test, or perhaps something they’ve heard my wife and I mention. Our 2-year-old Dorothy’s answer to what she wants to pray for – every night- is animals.
If the children choose something silly like their toys (or paw patrol!) we just ask them to think of something else to pray for and typically that’s enough for them to get the hint. We try not to linger on it or force a response from them if they truly can’t think of something or if they aren’t in the state of mind to really consider it.
This family prayer time is a chance for us to hear from them what they’re thinking about, what’s worrying them, and what they’d like help or support with.
We then say a couple of prayers together and go through a short litany of things we always pray for, like blessing each other and mentioning our family, teachers, priests, and so-on, each by name. The process itself is quick – it takes less than 5 minutes. At the end of the day, or really by the end of their time under our roof, our hope is just that each child realizes and remembers: “yeah, we prayed as a family, we did it consistently, and that was important.”
Another tip I can offer- is to be flexible. We are sticklers to our bedtime timing in our household, so we do our best to plan ahead. For example, if we are at the pool after dinner, we’ll put pajamas on before coming home so that instead of trying to reconvene after we come inside and get situated (which often feels like herding cats that are tired and can scream really loudly) we can just do our bedtime prayers in the car before we come in the house.
This works because everyone is mostly calm from the car ride home, and also (and perhaps most importantly!) they are restrained so they can’t wander off. In fact, when our normal evening prayer time is feeling crazy or chaotic I just reminisce about those peaceful car prayer times and contemplate just moving family prayer time to the minivan in the garage on a regular basis.
We also pray to begin our day.
Mornings are a little chaotic for our family. It’s controlled chaos (though we’re getting much more into a routine!). Between getting teeth brushed, shoes on, backpacks located, teeth brushed (seriously just brush your teeth!), breakfast prepared ….there can be a LOT of moving parts! Mornings are therefore another time when car prayer time works well for us since we are all together on the way to school. The chaos has subsided by the time we are driving to school. All the teeth have (hopefully!) been hopefully brushed, all the backpacks are in-order, shoes are on…and the children are in their seats; a captive audience. Our route only consists of a few short blocks but it’s enough time for a quick prayer. I like to ask each child to choose their intention for the day, tell them mine, and say a quick prayer together.
Establishing this morning prayer routine has been so fruitful. I get to hear what each child is thinking about for the day. Right now, for example, our oldest daughter is immersed in doing well in math. For our oldest son, Husker football is at the forefront of his mind (and let’s be honest- they could use a prayer or two!). Our youngest son often mentions his friends, what he hopes to have for snack time- or something like that. This routine also makes for a ready-made question to ask and engage with them after school. For example, “Jane, how was math today?” Or, “Walt – what do you think the score will be for the next Husker game?” Or, “Harry – let me guess what you had for a snack today – Oreos!”
Our family prayer times are not perfect, and it can sometimes be frustrating, especially if we are busy or juggling a hundred different activities and obligations. However, we persist despite the imperfection. Again, our goal with this routine is to instill the value of prayer and to establish a consistency that will stay with our children throughout their lives.
I’d love to hear how you do family prayer time – what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what the fruits of this labor have been for your family. Join us in my free Facebook group, Present and Productive Parents, and let us know what this picture looks like for you.