Family Prayer and Forming Disciples at Home
“But we don’t talk to Jesus, that’s what Dad does.”
I am embarrassed to share with you that this was my three year old daughter’s response to our invitation a few weeks ago that we take time together as a family to talk to Jesus. She was confused because my wife and I normally only use that particular phraseology when we are hoping to not be bothered in some quiet corner of the house as we take as our personal prayer time.
How mortifying, though. “That’s what Dad does.” Her words struck a place in my heart where I carry my greatest fear. I will be vulnerable enough with you to admit that my single deepest fear is that, even though I will spend my whole “career” as an evangelist, helping to introduce people to Jesus, that my kids themselves with not know or follow the Lord, like the Catholic equivalent of the stereotype of the rebellious “pastor’s kid.”
This is the question that has plagued me since becoming a dad. As I raise kids in a culture that is subversive to Catholic teachings and practices, how do I help them root their identity so deeply in God that they do not walk away from Him once they leave our house? Ultimately, the terrifying part of this whole situation is that this is something I cannot force but can merely encourage. I can only lead them to the water and then invite them to drink.
My wife and I take seriously our role, not only as primary educators of our children, but also as their primary evangelists. If they do not hear the Gospel from us, and the invitation to a lifetime of discipleship, I really believe we have let them down. It was our late night conversations about how to best accomplish that that led to our recent changes in our family’s prayer routine.
For a long time, our family prayer life has read like the answers to a Catholic bingo card. We take the kids to daily Mass, we pray the Rosary together, we will even do Morning or Evening Prayer with them from the Liturgy of the Hours. But, recently, we have felt like adding a new way of praying together right before bedtime.
You see, my wife and I both come from very traditionally Catholic households, a gift for which we are grateful. For both of our families, a daily family Rosary was the norm and for as long as I can remember, both of my parents have spent the first moments of their day at the local 6:30 am Mass. Growing up, my parish offered confession times daily.
Yet, as we have talked about it as a couple, we both admitted to each other that a committed relationship with the Lord was not something we discovered until much later in life. In the fashionable parlance, I would not say that I was a “disciple” of Jesus Christ until years after I left my parents home. For all of the traditional Catholic praxis in our households, without later opportunities in life to encounter the Lord personally and then to be mentored by more mature Catholics in the discipline and relationship of a growing prayer life, the faith would have remained a cultural or intellectual reality for me more than a committedly personal one.
To put a finer point on it, I have watched too many kids from “good Catholic families” walk away from the faith to believe anymore that, in this culture, if I simply expose my kids to the traditionally Catholic elements of our faith, they will remain Catholic.
We realized that if we really want our kids to know God personally, then we needed to expose them to what it looks like to pray personally. If we want our kids to be disciples, then we need to help them see what that looks like.
So, for five to ten minutes before bed, we now talk to Jesus together as a family. The one year old has been given a bit of a pass as far as sitting still on the couch goes but my wife, myself and our three year old all sit on the couch and pray out loud, together.
We usually start by just inviting the Lord into our home, our hearts, and our time together. We use simple phrases like “Come Lord Jesus” and “Come Holy Spirit.” Then, my wife and I usually take turns sharing our hearts with God, out loud. We thank Him, commit ourselves to Him anew, say sorry, and ask for strength. We pray for healing, for joy, for grace. Then, we invite our three year old to share her heart, in whatever way she feels comfortable.
Following that, my wife and I pray over our kids out loud. We ask God to show them His love for them, to show them their identity, and we speak blessings over their lives. “You are good, Eva, and you were made good. Your heart was made to love and God is your Father. He loves you so much.” Simple, but real, things we really feel in our hearts. We are just letting our kids hear us pray them out loud.
We also ask for healing for our kids as we pray over them. For God to heal them from the hurts of the day and to heal the various boo-boos that the days activities has yielded. We want them to know that they have a Father who wants to heal and has the power to do so. Following a short time of silence to just let the Lord love us, we consecrate the day and the night to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by praying a Hail Mary together.
If you are familiar with the Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond method of prayer, which I believe to be a great rubric for building a more personal prayer life, you will recognize the outline for how we are attempting to model our family prayer time.
Having only adopted this practice a few weeks ago, I already feel compelled to share it with you because of the incredibly positive impact it has had on our family. Not only do I feel the ineffable workings of grace increasing in our home, but I have noticed a greater openness to the things of God in our kids. It has led to better relationships amongst all of us and has bonded us around prayer in a way nothing else has.
I will never stop loving the Rosary. I have done St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary almost every year for the last ten years. I will never stop loving the Mass. Daily Mass, to me, has been the perennial blessing and comfort of my life. We will never stop exposing our kids to these things. But, as I read the Catechism and St. Thomas Aquinas, not to mention Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and find within them a consistent calling to relationship, encounter, and faith in order for the Sacraments to affect the greatest possible change in the human heart, I cannot help but think that this more personal way of praying together as a family is an indispensable part of preparing our children for giving their entire lives to God for the rest of their lives.
It seems to me that until we stumbled on this new way of praying together in our fumbling attempts to introduce our kids to the Lord, our family prayer was missing something.