Guest post by Jessica Fahy of At His Feet.
Praying for our children is important. And praying with our children is important too. Yet, if they are not taught how to pray, they may either fall away from the faith as they grow older or, if they don’t, they will sit in spiritual mediocrity and lukewarmness. As that saying goes, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
Reminder: They are called to be saints. We are all called to be saints! So let us pray for the gift of prayer!
One cannot possibly become even remotely close to a saintly and virtuous life if they are not praying. St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Augustine (both Doctors of the Church) even forewarned that “he who prays shall be saved, but he who does not pray shall certainly be damned.” Prayer is our relationship with God and if there’s no relationship with God – or a very lukewarm and dull one – our soul is at risk.
St. Teresa of Avila said that if she could climb to a mountain top to have her voice heard by the whole world, she would do it for the sole purpose of exclaiming out: “Pray! Pray! Pray!”
So here is the greatest grace for our children (or perhaps one of the top ones!): The gift of prayer. A prayer life. An intimate communion with our Lord through a fervent prayer life.
That is what I so ardently want and hope for my children. I want them in a continuous communion with God throughout the day. I want them to know how to pray to grow in union with Him and to be able to know His Will. I wholeheartedly desire and pray for this for them every day; when I pray with my children, we pray for this grace together as well: “Lord, give us a love for prayer and teach us how to pray.”
A love for prayer. A reverence for prayer. An awareness of God’s presence within us and around us.
The grace of prayer and the practice of the presence of God is what will cultivate this living, daily, and intimate communion. It is what will bear the fruit, in time, of virtues in their souls and it is what will make known to them God’s Will in their lives.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21] (my emphasis added)
How intrinsic God’s Will is to our salvation!
Suggested ways to do this…
1. Pray for this grace for your children… every day.
And pray for it with your children as well. “Lord, give us a love for prayer and teach us how to pray,” or, every time before the Rosary, “Mother, give us a love for your Rosary and teach us to pray it well.”
2. Let prayer be a part of your daily rhythm.
The Catechism reminds us that we cannot “pray at all times” unless we make a point to pray at certain times. Begin your day together with a morning prayer. Perhaps do the Angelus at noon and 6pm. Grace before meals. Grace after meals. Perhaps schedule in a time to pray a Rosary (or at least a decade). Perhaps family prayer at nighttime before bed. Maybe a meditative prayer while they lay in bed. The possibilities for those “certain prayer times” are endless!
3. Dot your day with prayer and weave it throughout.
Pray on your way back from your children’s friends’ house or from the park. Thank God for His creation when you’re outside with the kids. Ask forgiveness from God together. Beg the Lord for your little needs throughout the day, “Lord, if it be Your Will, please hold off the rain so daddy can finish his lawn care work” or “Jesus, please heal John-Paul’s boo-boo and help him offer his little pain to you as a penance for souls.” When your child shows you something he made: “Praise God! That’s so beautiful, you did a great job at staying in the lines.” Pause and pray for someone who has asked for prayers. Pray when you hear an ambulance. There’s always a way to pray at every moment.
4. Let your children “catch” you praying.
For me, personally, this was awkward at first. If we want our children to talk to the Lord throughout the day though, we’re going to have to go out of our way to do that too, and do so out loud. (Warning – it may feel forced and unnatural at first, but that’s ok! It’ll feel more natural in time). They won’t be able to hear you praying in your heart. So, sometimes, do just that – say those “heart prayers” out loud. “Oh Lord, I need Your help right now…” (Typical motherly prayer I guess!) or sing to Him a song or hymn you know. Let them hear, “Jesus, I adore You. You are so good.”
5. Encourage them to “think of Jesus in their hearts” often and speak with Him.
Perhaps they’re coloring a picture. You can tell them that whenever they can remember, they can unite to Jesus in their hearts by thinking of Him. “Maybe then you want to tell Jesus you love Him, or that you’re sad or scared, or are happy about something…” etc… These come off as casual suggestions and “reminders” from time to time (at least the way I do it but I’m sure there’s other ways, so if you know of any, please share!): “Let us give Mary a flower right now by telling her we love her in our hearts. And we can do this as we’re cleaning, or playing, or coloring or walking…anywhere and anytime. Jesus is so pleased and happy when we give His Mother flowers.”
Doing these things, as well as more obvious things like frequenting the Sacraments, will make prayer more of a disposition of their soul and consequently a habit. The reluctance and resistance to pray will diminish because it has become a part of who they are and what they do (not that you won’t have those moments!). The general rule is the more one prays, the more one will love to pray and desire to pray. The more you choose to make it a discipline (a spiritual practice), the more likely it is that our disordered desires will become more ordered and follow suit. Also, always ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit on how and when to go about doing this with our children, as we want it to be always pleasant, tender, and warm. 🙂
Finally, be patient. This will happen in God’s time, not in your time. 😉 Maybe they’ll develop a an eager prayer life a year from now, maybe 20 years from now! Persevere in prayer and set an example. Keep in mind that these suggestions are best when you have young children who are so open to prayer, or a child of any age with a generally open heart. However, if it’s been some time or maybe the child is older and resistant to prayer, “constantly praying” as these suggestions essentially entail, would be something that may possibly actually make them even more resistant. I would imagine a simple and silent example of love and God’s effect on your life as well as prayer and penance would turn this around in time… However, I’m not at this stage and it would be better to ask a mother who has sailed through these waters!
If you don’t already, pray for this grace for your children. What about you – what are your thoughts? Do you have any other suggestions on ways to cultivate this love for prayer?
3 thoughts on “5 ways to cultivate a love for prayer in children”
Thank you for sharing! I am not a mother, but I work with children and these are wonderful tips. If I were to become a mother someday, I would hope to do things like this with my children. Also, it is so inspiring to hear about families that really strive to cultivate a habit of prayer- thank you for your witness 🙂
I love these suggestions! My “baby” is 15 and other 2 are all grown up. I especially like #5 that models for them how to pray at the small moments, how to turn their hearts to higher things even while doing everyday things. I wish I’d done more when they were young to develop their personal prayer lives and an openness to intimacy with Christ. You’re right that these tips would be too much for older children, even now my 15yo who grew up with praise & worship music now rolls her eyes at it. But we do our best, pray for them, entrust them to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and trust God to work it out…remembering that God loves them far more than we can imagine and that what we see here and now is not the “end of the story.”
My little ones are now grown adults with children of their own…when they were small I always blessed them and said a prayer before bedtime and we always said a prayer of thanks before dinner…we still do this whenever we are together…I pray that it is done also when they are at home with their families….I have since realized that thinking and talking to God at different times of the day is always a prayer between you and God! I pray that they will also come to realize this and pass it on to their children….