The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life. To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group: CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.
Family prayer isn’t supposed to be stressful. If that comes as a surprise, keep reading. Help is on the way.
In my work with families, I find that the more concerned you are with “getting prayer right” (being in the “right” position, staying still for the “right” amount of time, saying the “right” words the “right” way) the more miserable the experience is going to be for you and your kids.
My heart often breaks for families who take this approach because they obviously care deeply about their faith and they are working really, really hard to get their kids to love God too. Unfortunately, as the years go by, more often than not, children raised in households that adopt this approach fall away from the faith. Why? Because for these kids, prayer was never really about encountering a loving God who was the source of the warmth in their home (and their own lives). It was just another way to disappoint mom and dad and trigger family fights. Who needs that? What kid in his right mind wouldn’t leave that behind the first second he had the chance?
The families who have success with family prayer are the ones who realize that the point is creating connection–with each other and God. These families don’t worry about getting the words right. They’re more interested in keeping it real.
There are lots of different ways to do family prayer and all of them are “correct” if the family keeps in mind that the most important thing is coming out of the experience feeling closer than you did going into it. Prayer should involve both vertical and horizontal dimensions. That is, it should connect us to God and each other. Parents who make family prayer work–whatever prayer form they use (e.g, spontaneous prayer, family rosary, chaplet, reading bible stories, kid-friendly praise and worship, etc)–go into the experience asking themselves three questions;
“How can we make this accessible and d0-able?
“How can make it pleasant for everyone?”
“How can we make sure we come out of this time feeling more connected than we did going into it?”
Families who aren’t stressed by family prayer don’t dictate what family prayer is going to look like. They let the kind of prayer they do emerge naturally out the ages and stages of their kids. They might start by asking, “What do my kids like to do and how can we do that with God?” For instance, “Do my kids like to read stories? Great, let’s read a bible story.” “Do my kids like to sing? Great! Let’s sing some praise songs.” “Do my kids like to color? Great! They can color a picture of the mystery while the rest of us pray that decade our loud.” “Do my kids like to talk and get my attention? Great! Let’s all take turns sharing our thoughts about how God has blessed us today and what we need God’s help with, and then I’ll teach them how to tell God directly.”
Of course there are times when kids need to behave. We have other strategies for helpful kids make it through mass. But when it comes to watching mass at home, or doing any regular kind of family prayer, parents can’t be so focused on “getting it right” that they forget that the real point is creating a loving connection with God and each other.
Want a more rewarding family prayer experience? Stop worrying about “getting it right” or doing it “just so.” Instead, think of family prayer time as time to cuddle up in your Heavenly Father’s lap while your kids cuddle up in yours. Play together in God’s presence. Share with each other. Make a joyful noise. And above all, remember that the real point of family prayer is letting God stoke the fire of love that you feel in your hearts for him and your family.
Want more tips for making the faith the source of the warmth in your home? Check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.