Beyond “Bless Us O Lord”, What Does Family Prayer Look Like?

by Annemarie Scobey-Polacheck

Our nine-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old son had been having a terrible weekend together. Liam was annoyed with Teenasia’s constant singing. Teenasia said Liam was chewing with his mouth open on purpose. Liam took more than his share of chips for lunch; Teenasia allegedly never got in trouble for anything. Their list of complaints became shriller with every passing hour. Finally, on Sunday morning, my husband and I left them unsupervised in the mudroom to put on their jackets for Mass and a screaming match ensued. Mass would begin in ten minutes, and we were already a couple minutes behind. But as I looked at their angry faces, I knew I couldn’t ignore this moment. I told Liam and Teenasia to join hands with the other kids and we were going to have a quick family prayer. In the prayer, I thanked God for sending Liam and Teenasia into our family. I said there was a reason God had chosen for them to be brother and sister and prayed that both of them would be open to God’s grace to be the best big brother or younger sister that they could be.

Once the family was loaded in the van, I said we were going to drive to church without talking, so that Liam and Teenasia could both pray the Hail Mary silently.

Parents who integrate prayer into daily life give their children the gift of a relationship with God that is constant and accessible. Praying about regular life problems and successes helps children to form a context for a faith that could otherwise feel removed and mysterious. For Liam and Teenasia that particular day, my husband and I noticed that each of them made a conscious effort to stop the bickering after church. Later that night, Liam approached Teenasia and said he’d read out loud with her before bed. Will this be the end of sibling rivalry for them? Certainly not. But hopefully, having them pray together in difficult times is laying the groundwork for an understanding that all relationships are gifts from God.

Looking for ways to build more prayer into your family’s life? Here are a few ideas:

• Create a tradition that incorporates prayer: “Each year, during Lent, we do outdoor Stations of the Cross with another family,” said Jamie, father of four. “We either have a picnic or go out for a fish fry afterward. The kids love that it’s a tradition unique to our family.”

• If it’s an important day – pray for it! “When a child has an important day in our family, we gather together in the morning, put our hands on that child and each person gives a blessing,” said Jen, mother of three. “Whether it’s a big test or tryouts for a sport or a birthday, we begin the day by talking to God about it.”

• Road trips start with prayer: “Once the van is packed and everyone is buckled in, we say an Our Father or a Hail Mary for our trip,” said Bill, father of four. “My wife or I will pray out loud for safe travels and also for the people we might be going to visit, or that we learn something from the trip.”

• Service can be prayer in action: “We serve at a meal program once a month,” said Henry, father of three. “When we do this, our kids are taken out of their comfortable world and get to experience living the Gospel values.”

• Jump-start your own prayer life: It’s difficult to pass on a spirit of prayer if that’s not where you are personally. If you feel that your whole family is lacking spiritually, begin by giving prayer a place in your own life. Children will learn by osmosis. “I can tell when I need to pray more. I become more irritable and worried,” said Amy, mother of three. “When my children see me taking time to go to daily Mass or Adoration, or reading spiritual books, they recognize it’s important and it makes a difference.”