Praying With Small Children

Praying with small children can be difficult. They tend to be wiggly and have short attention spans. When little ones are involved, it’s easy for family prayer time to seem more like…Wrestlemania. But you can have a meaningful prayer time with small children if you remember that little people need different spiritual food than bigger people.

Faith develops in different stages from early childhood, to middle childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  Children around 6 and under are in what’s called the “intuitive-projective” stage of faith. But we like to call it “the cuddly stage.”

In the “cuddly stage” of faith development, children believe something is “true” and good if it FEELS loving, and safe, and friendly.  They believe something is “false” if it FEELS stiff, cold, and unrelatable.

You can focus more on things like prayer-posture and getting prayers “just right” as kids get a little older.  But in the “cuddly faith” stage, the best way to nurture your child’s faith is to make prayer-times–and other experiences with the faith–affectionate, inviting, imaginative, and even playful.

Let your little ones cuddle in your lap when you pray with them. Be affectionate.  As you hold them, concentrate on letting them feel God’s arms around them and letting them feel God’s love filling their hearts through you.  

Sing kid-friendly praise songs together. Use different voices when you read them bible stories or saint stories. Make it fun.

Engage their imagination by asking them to pretend that they were actually in the stories.  You can even act those stories out together!

By understanding the spiritual food that a small child’s faith requires, you can help fill their hunger for God. 

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

How To Pray Together as A Family

When you’re praying as a family, is it better to use the formal prayers of the church–like the rosary, traditional Grace-at-Meals, or a chaplet—or more conversational prayer?

We say, “Why not both?”  It isn’t that one type of prayer is better than another type.  It’s that they serve different purposes in our spiritual lives.

In our family, we like to think of formal prayers as the, “family prayers of the Church.”  They connect us with the saints and angels and all the other members of our Church past and present! Praying the rosary with our kids, or the divine mercy chaplet, or an Our Father, or even traditional “grace-at-meals,” is like going to visit God alongside all our spiritual aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s like inviting the whole church to pray with us, so we’re never really alone.

But sometimes–just like it’s good to get more personal time with the people you love–it’s good to talk to God using words that are uniquely our own.  Conversational prayer allows us to talk to God about our day, to thank him for specific blessings, ask him for special help, and discern his unique and unrepeatable plan for your life.  

Helping our kids become fluent in both conversational and formal prayer allows them to experience their faith as something that is both personal TO them and bigger THAN them. 

To help your kids have a more meaningful experience with all the different kinds of prayer the church has to offer, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids

How to Cultivate Meaningful Family Prayer

Praying together as a family—at all—can seem intimidating.

Life is busy, and because of this, most families are happy just to make prayer happen, much less make it meaningful.  But there’s good news! You don’t have to be a saint or have perfect kids to have an awesome family prayer time.

So how do we make our prayer time meaningful and teach our kids to have a personal relationship with God?

First, make family prayer a regular part of your everyday life.  Pick a time you’re already naturally together–like dinner time or bedtime–and make spending some time with God part of that routine.

Second, remember that family prayer isn’t just about saying words AT God.  It’s about both helping your family enter into a real relationship WITH God, AND experiencing the Lord as another member of your household.

Third, it is important to teach your kids to talk to God just like they were talking to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because He does! 

Regardless of whether you’re using formal prayers, like the rosary, or taking a more conversational approach, gently encourage everyone to slow down and really think about what they’re saying. 

When you’re using more formal prayer with little ones, don’t forget to discuss what those strange words and phrases like “bounty” or “full of grace” or “trespasses” mean. You can’t have a real conversation if you don’t know what you’re saying!

By remembering that prayer is meant to be an actual conversation with the person who knows you best and loves you most—God!—you can make sure your kids learn to pray with their whole heart.

Want more ideas for celebrating a meaningful family prayer life? Check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids!

Prayer and the Reality of Distraction

Guest post by Deacon Dominic Cerrato, Ph.D. Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute Spiritual Direction services

If you’re anything like me, you’re easily distracted in prayer. I don’t think a day goes by when, praying the Divine Office, my mind doesn’t wander somewhere between the psalms and the reading. At times like these it’s not uncommon to become frustrated feeling that we’ve cheated God out of some essential prayer time. As a result, we can strongly identify with Hamlet’s King Claudius who, while attempting to repent of his brother’s murder says, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

While there is some truth to Claudius’ words, we ought not take them too literally. This is because God hears distracted prayers more intently than loving parents hear the words of their distracted children. Attentiveness in prayer is not for God’s sake, but for our own. Focus helps us to concentrate on the goal of all prayer which, if it’s from the heart, is intimate communion with Jesus Christ.

Virtually every saint dealt with distractions in some form or another. In our fallen yet redeemed state, coupled with our human frailties, it’s almost impossible to eliminate distractions completely. The best we can do is minimize those we can, and constructively accommodate those we can’t. The great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, understood this well. Writing in the 16th century, she observed.

I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to be over than I was to remain there. I don’t know what heavy penance I would not have gladly undertaken rather than practice prayer….the intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down….All the trials we endure cannot be compared to these interior battles…[Yet,] do not imagine that the important thing is never to be thinking of anything else and that if your mind becomes slightly distracted all is lost…think of distractions as mere clouds passing in the sky, momentarily taking your gaze from the Sun of Righteousness…

Properly understood, distractions are anything that prevent us from giving our full attention to God. They are more noticeable when we acquire the habit of prayer as opposed to praying occasionally. Distractions sneak into our interiority, capturing the imagination and diminishing the encounter with God. They arise out of a great many factors typically categorized as the world, the flesh, and the devil. That acknowledged, there are a few things we can do to minimize the number of distractions and their negative impact.

To start with, it’s quite helpful to begin prayer by finding the right place to pray. It should be quiet with just the right amount of light to allow you to see – assuming you are using a devotional, Scripture or even a holy object like a crucifix. Posture likewise is important. For instance, too comfortable a position, like a nice overstuffed chair, may lead to drowsiness. Conversely, too uncomfortable a position, like a hard-wooden chair, may lead to further distractions. Settling down is helpful as well. To the extent possible, we should spend a few minutes before prayer in calming silence, placing ourselves in the presence of God. This disposes us to recognize His voice in prayer so that we may better accomplish His will.

With place and posture set, and the calming accomplished, you may wish to begin prayer by asking our Lord for the grace to stay focused. This is less a challenge with vocal prayer as opposed to mental prayer since the simultaneous “saying” and “hearing” can help keep us focused longer. Timing our prayer may also be quite helpful. If you find you’re too tired to pray night prayer before bed, then do it an hour before bedtime. I can assure you that God doesn’t have a specific time frame when your prayer is heard.

Beyond these practical suggestions, there are a couple of other ways to deal with distractions. The first and most effective of these is just to ignore them as, “mere clouds passing in the sky.” If, while praying, we become aware of a distraction, we should simply let it go and return to prayer. According to St. Francis DeSales, “If all you do is return to God after distraction, then this is a very good prayer. Your persistence shows how much you want to be with God.” This persistence means that, despite the distractions, we are intent on seeking God. If we get distracted 15 times and we return to God 15 times, God is pleased with our steadfastness.

Sometimes, a distraction is not really a distraction. This is particularly true when we’re dealing with a major struggle that dominates our thought process. In this situation, we find it almost impossible to escape the struggle as it continually encroaches on our prayer time. Depending on the nature of the struggle, this could be the prompting of the Holy Spirit calling us to redirect our prayers to that difficulty. This differs significantly from other kinds of interruptions. Where distractions lead us away from prayer into our drifting imagination, dealing with a struggle simply redirects the focus of prayer such that we are still praying. The fact that we’re still praying ought to confirm for us the influence of the Holy Spirit and therefore not a distraction in a strict sense.

Looked at positively, distractions, far from impeding the spiritual life, can provide a means to draw closer to Christ. Though they remain an interior battle throughout life, by cooperating with grace, they become less an irritant and more a routine spiritual exercise.

For spiritual direction, contact us at 740.266.6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

A Response to Prayer Shaming: What Good is Prayer Anyway?

In light of the recent tragedy in San Bernardino, the New York Daily News and other outlets (notably, HuffPo) have challenged believers by, essentially, saying, “spare us your prayers.  God isn’t going to fix this.”

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As a pastoral counselor, I hear different versions of this all the time.  Specifically, “What good is prayer if I have to do all the work anyway?”

Many people have an incomplete–and frankly, disordered–understanding of the purpose of prayer.  They engage in prayer as if they are offering up a spiritual work order.  All they need to do is tell God, “Fix this” and then stand back and wait.  If he does, “It’s miracle!”  If he doesn’t then “It’s his will.”

Sometimes miracles do happen.  Things spontaneously improve without us lifting a finger.  What a wonderful gift it is when this happens.  But as with any gift, we cannot take these spiritual gifts for granted.  The norm is for us to pray and work.  As Pope Francis put it, “You pray for the poor.  Then you feed them.  That’s how prayer works.”

But if that’s how prayer works, why pray at all?  Why not just feed them (or do whatever else it is we are praying about)?  Here is a metaphor that I find helpful.

Another Brick in the Wall

Imagine standing facing a huge wall. You can’t climb it–it’s too tall.  You can’t tunnel under it–its foundation goes deep into the ground.  You have to break through the wall.  How do you begin?    You could simply start hammering away at part of the wall and hope that you’ve picked a weak spot OR you could stop and pray.

As you pray, God shines a light on the other side of the wall.  A bright, penetrating light. You can’t see much of it, but on your side of the wall, you suddenly see that certain parts of the wall are beginning to glow and some parts are glowing more brightly than others.  Upon closer examination, you see that where the wall is glowing, there appear to be small cracks or weaknesses.  In fact, it appears that the parts of the wall that are glowing the brightest are the parts where there are significant structural weaknesses.  If you strike there, not only will those bricks come out, but they may just bring the whole wall down with them!

Prayer: Grace Building on Nature

I think this metaphor serves as a simple illustration of St Thomas Aquinas’ maxim that “grace builds on nature.”  Grace, for the most part, does not stand in stead of human action and the laws of nature, but–generally speaking– it makes them infinitely more efficient.  Prayer does not preclude us from working hard but it allows that work to bear much, much more fruit and do it much much more efficiently.  Through prayer, God multiplies our efforts like he multiplied the loaves and fishes.  For more information on how you can cooperate with God’s grace in your life, check out The Life God Wants YOU to Have:  Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail.

Prayer Works: A Psychological Case for Public Prayer and Graceful Governance

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On the Patheos Atheist Channel, Jeffrey Jay Lowder posted an article titled, “Question for Theists:  Why Is It Important to Begin Governmental Meetings with Prayer?”  I appreciated the honest and respectful attempt to engage believers on this controversial issue–especially in light of Canada’s high court ruling that such prayer is impermissible— so I thought I would attempt a purely secular, non-theist, research-based response to the question.   There actually is a purely psychological argument for the benefits of public prayer. To start, we need to look at some research on a surprisingly powerful strategy for resolving marital conflict.

The Marriage Hack

A team of resaerchers led by Eli Finkel at the University of Chicago recently identified a conflict resolution strategy Finkel calls, “The Marriage Hack.”  (You can watch his TED talk here.)  The short version is that researchers asked couples who were in conflict to imagine what a third party, who loved them both and wished the best for both of them, would advise them to do about their conflict.  This simple intervention had two surprisingly powerful results.

First, when compared to the control group who did not use this strategy, this technique enabled couples to stop being so concerned with their own agendas and made them more willing to seek mutually satisfying solutions. Second, and again, compared to the control group, couples who used this strategy were able to experience significantly more harmony in the relationship over time, actually arresting the normal decline in relationship satisfaction most couples normally experience as the years go by.

The Marriage Hack and Prayer

I would suggest that prayer serves a similar psychological function.   There is, after all, considerable evidence that couple-prayer bears tremendous fruit both in terms of relationship happiness and stability.   Even if we were–for the sake of argument–ignore any effect that grace might have, simply taking a moment to reflect, in prayer, on what God–the person who loves each of us and desires the best for all of us–would have us do before a conversation allows us to be more generous toward others, more accommodating of other’s agendas, and more egalitarian than we might otherwise prefer to be.

The Significance of Public Prayer

Would this benefit extend to public prayer at government meetings?  I would suggest that it does.  Again, for the sake of argument, leaving out any potential supernatural benefit of prayer, even simple civic deism (i.e.  pro forma displays of public spirituality that do not necessarily represent a specific belief in any doctrine or creed) causes the people praying to pause and reflect on how God–as the participants understand that concept–would want them to behave in a more pro-social manner than they might otherwise choose to behave if they were solely focused on their own agendas.  Whether the person believes in Jesus Christ, Allah, the Bab, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster is, for the sake of this argument, irrelevant.  The simple act of reflecting upon how a being that loved us all and wished the best for us has been shown to promote pro-social behavior.  Believers, of course, call this activity “prayer.”

I would suggest that people naturally intuit the social benefits of even pro-forma prayer which is why they feel so passionately about doing it in the first place.  A basic principle of evolutionary psychology argues that customs don’t develop in the absence of a perceived benefit.  My suspicion is that people’s experience tells them that prayer works, not just because of wishful thinking, but because even without considering the power of grace, the simple act of pausing to reflect what a loving, benevolent, third-party would wish us to do makes us more agreeable and helps us get things done in a more–*ahem*— graceful manner.

An Atheist Alternative

I suppose you could theoretically argue that you could get a similar benefit to civic deist prayer by simply asking the participants of a meeting to, “Please pause and reflect on how a benevolent third party who loved us all and wished the best for us would want us to behave”  but I’m not really sure how that would be different than what civic deist prayer already is and does.

A friend of mine, Patheos blogger, Mark Shea, often remarks that society could do with a bit of insensitivity training.  That is, we could all benefit from indulging in a little less of a tendency to actively seek out opportunities to feel offended, slighted, and put out, and instead look for ways to be generous in our interpretations of the behavior of those around us.  Considering this, perhaps a modest suggestion for those who are offended by civic deist prayers could simply pause and imagine what a third party who loved them and all the others in the room would wish from them?

But I’m not sure if we really have a prayer of that happening.

Prayer Promotes Bonding, Study Says.

Servant of God, Fr. Patrick Peyton, is famous for the slogan, “the family that prays together, stays together.”  In our books, our radio program and counseling practice, we strongly recommend both couple and family prayer as a way of increasing intimacy and responding to the differences that can divide.  Of course, this isn’t just true for families.  Prayer is the means by which Jesus’ own wish that all might be one in him (John 17:21) will be fulfilled.  As Pope Francis has demonstrated repeatedly and, in particular in his spiritual intervention with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, prayer is the way to peace.  In fact, the researchers assert that despite popular concerns that prayer in public institutions would lead to conflict, the reality is quite different in that prayer is a uniting, not a dividing force.

A new study from the University of Connecticut reveals the power of prayer to reach across cultural divides and build bridges in  organizations that make prayer a common practice even when its membership is made up of people from diverse backgrounds.  The study finds that interfaith group prayer serves as a “bridging cultural practice” in multi-faith community organizations.

“The prayer practices we observed appear to play a crucial role in binding participants together across significant racial and socioeconomic differences,” says sociology professor Dr. Ruth Braunstein of the University of Connecticut.

“They do this by being inclusive of multiple faith traditions, celebrating the diversity of the group, and encouraging individuals to interact with each other.”

The study, published online this month and scheduled to appear in the print edition of the American Sociological Review, consists of data from a national study of multi-faith community organizing groups.

These groups organize primarily through religious congregations in an effort to build civic coalitions that address a variety of issues, from health care access to crime. Such groups tend to be both racially and socioeconomically diverse.

Nationally, more than 50 percent of board members of these organizations are non-white, compared to 19 percent of all nonprofit board members and 13 percent of Fortune 500 board members.

Additionally, more than half the board members of the faith-based groups earn less than $50,000 a year.

What Braunstein and her fellow researchers discovered is that, far from being a source of division, religious practices play a unifying role in such groups, even in those — like the one where Braunstein did her fieldwork — that include members from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith traditions.

Interfaith group prayers took place in about 75 percent of the diverse gatherings Braunstein observed over two years.

Such prayers are defined by the authors of the study as a “bridging cultural practice,” meaning an activity that’s used to build shared identities across differences.

By analyzing data from the National Study of Faith-Based Community Organizing Coalitions, the researchers found that the greater a group’s diversity, the more likely they were to incorporate “bridging prayer practices” like prayer vigils into their regular activities.

“American society can learn a lot from organizations that are struggling honestly to embrace diversity….” said Wood.

Coming Wed on More2Life: The God Connection (Plus, Win a Free Book! Details Below)

Coming WEDNESDAY on More2Life– The God Connection:  God loves you so much!  He is reaching out to you in so many ways.   Today on More2Life, we’ll look at the ways we can draw closer to God and how to remove the obstacles that stand in our path.

Call in at 877-573-7825 from Noon-1 Eastern (11-Noon Central) with your questions about experiencing God’s love more fully in your daily life.

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Wed Q of the D:  (Two-Fer.  Answer one or both).

1. When are you most aware of God’s love for you?

 

2. What makes you feel disconnected from God?

 

*Win a free book!  Every day you respond to the question of the day your name will be entered in a radio drawing to win a free book from the Popcak Catholic Living Library (over 10 titles in all)!  Again, each day that you respond you will get another chance at winning a free book in the drawing held every Friday on More2Life Radio.

This is a great way to get that title you haven’t read yet, or get a book for a friend who really needs it!  Enter every day to win.  This week’s featured title is:  God Help Me, This Stress is Driving Me Nuts!  Finding Balance Through God’s Grace. 

Winners will be announced on air and contacted by FB message following the drawing Friday afternoon.

 

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