Family Prayer

Dramatic voice: “The waves were crashing and the boat was rocking. Up and down, higher and higher. The water splashed and smashed into the little boat. It was going to sink! But Jesus was still fast asleep.”

I was telling my kids the story of Jesus and the disciples in the storm from Su Box’s 42 Bible Stories.

Riveting stuff, right? I looked up, expecting to see the kids fully engaged. Instead, Paul was planking on the floor and Sophie was sneaking a quick peek at her Peppa Pig book.

Sigh. Family prayer night.

A few readers have asked about what we do and what works. To be honest, I’m no authority on this and still wonder if what we do is “working.” In fact, I’m a bit like the disciples in the boat: looking for an immediate response from God – confirmation that we are on the right track.

I think each family’s prayer is going to be different depending upon a wide range of circumstances. What is a fit for our family might not work well at all for you.  With that said, it can’t hurt to share ideas.

Paul’s preferred prayer posture on many nights.

We usually keep family prayer simple. I used to have an elaborate schedule to mix up prayer each night of the week: Monday, Bible reading; Tuesday, silent prayer; Wednesday, social justice issues; etc. With our unorthodox working schedules, that kind of variety proved unsustainable. On most nights, we’re happy to be able to sit down together for a few uninterrupted moments.

Over time, a simple structure has developed:

  1. Sign of the cross
  2. What was everyone’s favorite part of the day? Each of us think of something. Paul can’t talk yet, so Sophie usually speaks for him in a squeaky voice.)
  3. Thank God for the blessings of the day
  4. Who or what do we need to pray for? Some examples are: the sick, those who have died, peace, friends, etc. The kids usually need help with this one, but Sophie will sometimes surprise us with her own. Nothing is off limits. The other night she wanted to pray for he stuffed animal. Sure, why not?
  5. Song or a traditional prayer: Songs are preferable if we have a little more time to work with. We sing simple stuff like Father I Adore You and Sanctuary. If there’s less time, we say one of the rote prayers: Guardian Angel, Our Father, Hail Mary, etc.
  6. Sign of the cross

On Mondays, Megan finishes teaching early and we slow things down for a lesson night. That usually involves reading a story from the Bible, followed by an activity, game or a craft that helps the kids to remember the story. For example, after I read the Jesus’ parable of the two houses, they each made a paper cup into a house. In a large container, we placed one of the houses on a rock and another onto a pile of dirt (we didn’t have sand). I turned on the hose, slowly filling the container, and – surprise, surprise – the house on dirt fell down. A perfect visual for the parable. The person who prays daily is like the man that built his house on the rock.

Some great resources for bringing Bible tales to life can be found at Catholic Mom.

Sometimes we focus instead on an important saint or introduce a liturgical season. For example, we celebrated the feast of All Souls a few weeks back by making a little Dia de los Muertos altar for the dead. We talked the kids about how we pray for those who have died and we look forward to a day when we can all be together again in heaven.

In addition to family prayer time, we look for little opportunities to pray randomly throughout the day. I don’t want Sophie get the impression that prayer is a thing you only do with your family before your go to bed. Paul is currently obsessed with ambulances, fire trucks and police cars. As they drive buy with the sirens on, I try to remember to have them make a sign of the cross. Sophie surprised me the other day by initiating it herself.

I also bless them, their classmates, and their teachers every morning on the way to school.

I’ll be honest though, there’s nothing “successful” about our family prayer time. It just is what it is. On some nights, the effort seems to have an impact, on others, it doesn’t. But I’ve learned take comfort in the fact that I am not really in charge of the outcome. The boat is rocking, the waves are thrashing, Jesus is asleep – and yet – God is in control. He calmed the storm in his own time and brought the disciples safely back to shore. He is the One who will bring our family to where we need to go – on His own schedule. All we can do is show up and be faithful.

This applies not only to family prayer, but to parenting in general. I’m reminded of the Merton Prayer, perfect for those stumbling around in the dark:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”

What does your family do for prayer?