How to Include Prayer in Family Life
Of all of the lessons that I hope to pass down to my children, how to pray is one that I consider among the most important. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Prayer is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings.” It is how we communicate with God in heaven — giving God Glory and asking God for help — and it is a perennial source of strength and guidance during our walk on this earth. If my children one day leave our home having nothing but a strong relationship with God thanks to their thriving prayer lives, I will feel as if I have succeeded as a mother.
(This isn’t to say that I don’t also hope they’ll have rich relationships with their siblings, a strong work ethic, and good manners, too! But if I’m ranking priorities, prayer is of higher importance to me than “please and thank you!” On my optimistic days, I like to think that all these hopes might be achievable. :))
There are so many ways that we can teach our children how to pray, from taking them to Mass, where they learn to pray in community, to attending Eucharistic adoration, where they pray through presence with Jesus, to helping them know that they can talk to God like they would a friend, anytime, in the quiet of their own hearts.
One of the biggest ways that my husband and I teach our children how to pray is by integrating prayer into our family’s day-to-day life. Here are four actions we take to do that:
We pray before meals.
Saying a prayer as we gather around the table to enjoy a meal together is a natural and easy way to pray as a family. It is right to give thanks to God for the nourishment that sustains us, and let’s face it, there’s nothing like the promise of food for hungry tummies to inspire focused attention. We pray, then we eat, so everyone better quiet down for that prayer! My family usually prays the typical Grace Before Meals, though sometimes we switch it up by adding a short Scripture reading or reflection (especially during seasons like Advent and Lent), or lighting a Saint candle and invoking their prayers.
We decorate our home with “reminders” to pray.
As you might imagine from the owners of a shop that prominently features Catholic home decor, our house is full of statues, wall hangings and other items that showcase our faith. Besides adding beauty and serenity to our home, these items serve as visual reminders for our children (and us!) to pray regularly. For instance, we’ve taught our kids to say the short and simple Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me) every time they pass the crucifix hanging in our family room. Similarly, we dip our fingers in holy water and make the Sign of the Cross when we pass the water font in our entry way. This statue of Our Lady lives on our staircase landing, and we encourage our family members to say a Hail Mary (or even just those two words, “Hail Mary”) as they pass her. Considering how much we move in, out, and all around our house, these markers infuse our daily lives with regular prayer.
We pause to pray when we hear a siren.
A mom friend gave me this idea: if you hear a siren, stop what you are doing to ask for God’s blessing on the people for whom the ambulance or fire engine is intended. I’ll usually just squeeze my kids’ hands and say something along the lines of “God bless the people who are sick and sad, and the doctors, nurses, firefighters and drivers who are caring for them.” Sometimes — especially now that some of my kids are a little older — we’ll add in a Hail Mary or an Our Father. The important thing is to show kids that they can ask for God’s help on behalf of others. As well as sparking prayer, the gesture encourages keeping in mind the needs of others, including strangers.
We pray the rosary as a family.
The thought of praying the rosary as a family with young children may seem daunting, but believe me when I say that the fruits it has reaped in our lives have made the initial effort far worth it. (And also believe me when I say that we have embraced this practice with flexibility; some evenings, we pray just a single decade of the rosary.) After dinner is finished, dishes are washed, and homework is completed…once playtime is over, baths have been taken, and teeth have been brushed…we all breathe a collective sigh of relief and settle down in one of the kids’ bedrooms with rosaries in hand. Okay, maybe I’m the only one breathing that sigh, but everyone is generally content to lie or sit quietly at that point in the day, and praying together is the perfect way to end our day. It’s a moment of connection with one another and with God.
When our kids are grown and look back on our family practices, habits, and traditions, I hope that those involving prayer are some of the ones ingrained most happily and strongly in their memories. I truly believe that teaching them to pray regularly now sows the seeds of a lifelong relationship with God.