I remember an old grandfather, God repose his soul, at my church growing up. He used to say Our Father so slowly compared to the rest of the congregation, and it was not because he lacked English skills. He simply refused to rush prayer, and he had a hearing problem.
This is part two of a series to dialogue with parents AND kids, on issues that we see in the service. Please, let’s interact. What’s worked in your home? What didn’t work? What are the problems/causes of our issues.
In part one, we dealt very generally with Christian education, this week let’s discuss prayer in the home.
Along the same lines as above, let’s discuss prayer. Today, if you ask someone to pray, you largely find resistance to the idea. If you have a youth meeting or what-not, you will find that the children tend to want to come after the prayer part is over. We sit down to eat, either at Church or at some kind of planned activity, and there are always some children who are quick to start eating without praying. I would venture to speculate (but cannot prove), that many of them probably do not pray before their exams or tests. When forced to pray aloud, they often do not know what to pray for, and hence the, “Help the poor, help the sick and let those who didn’t come this week come next week” classic prayer. Many kids do not have an intercessor anymore. When asking how to deal with a problem, many do not list prayer in the list of possible solutions, and sometimes if they do, they say it as a joke. This indiciates that people are possibly not being taught to pray.
A parent may respond: Let’s be real, they find the prayers boring. I’ll agree with you! They do. I used to find a lot of the prayers boring myself! That doesn’t mean they don’t learn how to deal with that. I was taught the value of prayer. You learn to pray, by praying! If I dismiss something and say “they find it boring”, then what other things will we leave to a child’s emotions (or lack thereof)? Many children find studying boring. Should they cease to study once they have that ‘feeling’ of boredom? Many kids find doing their chores boring, or brushing their teeth and showering, or reading boring. The list could go on. So, why are we quick to dismiss prayer, and enforce these other things on our children? To take this approach means one of a few things:
– The person doesn’t know why prayer is important, and thus doesn’t know how to convey that
– The person never struggled through those periods and thus doesn’t know how to instruct another person through periods of dryness or finding things boring
– The person him/herself does not value prayer
There may be more reasons or hybrids of these, but you get the point. I struggled and struggle with prayer, so did the monks and saints of the Church. That’s why they wrote about periods of dryness. They wrote about them because they had them. That’s normal in any relationship. I’m not going to discuss how to deal with that here because it’s not the point of this blog, but my point is simple: if the kids do not know how to pray or do not appreciate prayer, it may mean that there is not an emphasis on it in the home. A spiritual father can help deal with a child’s struggle with prayer, but the teaching begins in the home, and the parents would need to send the kids to the Church with a specific request for help from the priest, rather than a request that the priest simply raise the child himself, independently of the home.
Let me get personal:
When I was a kid, my parents made us pray as a family. I both loved and loathed it. Sometimes I loved it because it was a break from other things. Sometimes I loved it because I was “feeling it”. Sometimes I loved it because I was in a bad mood and doing something with my family was actually comforting. Sometimes I loved it because I knew I was going to be mischievous and start laughing hysterically with my siblings during it.
Usually, though, I found it boring. My mom prayed for so long that it was painful. It was usually my mom’s long prayers that made me burst out laughing irreverently. My dad, who probably thought it was equally hilarious, would chastise me, and we’d move on. Doing this over years, however, taught me the discipline of prayer. When I no longer prayed with my family, I still prayed everyday because it was a learned habit. When I moved off for post-secondary, I still prayed. I learned to pray whether “in the mood” or not. This perseverance, coupled with guidance from my spiritual fathers and a lot of grace, helped me to learn to love prayer, or at least for me to learn the need for it. It taught me so much, that today if someone talks to me about their feelings toward prayer, I cannot just relate, but I can also give them from the lessons that I received.
Our Lord taught the disciples to pray. Our heavenly Father told us to pray. To devalue prayer is to teach that not communicating with God is not essential. Our Lord gave us the ability to dialogue with Him, and so we must take advantage of it and actually talk to Him!
Recently someone was talking to me in Church, a lady who has been married for many decades. I was so incredibly moved that her and her husband for all their years of marriage, pray the Agpeya together daily. When one person is tired, the other exhorts the other to prayer and vice versa. I see the fruits of it in their children and grandchild. The children have a firm belief, having gone through their own periods of trying and testing, and their grandchild asks questions deeper sometimes than what I ask my spiritual father! He is asking questions because he has foundations. He has seen it in his home and dialogued about it with his family.
Let the children see you pray, let, if possible, them see their grandmothers and grandfathers pray. Let them see that prayer is not for a certain age and you grow out of it. Let them see that you have reverence for prayer – that you value it. The only way to show them that is to do it. I remember an old grandfather, God repose his soul, at my church growing up. He used to say Our Father so slowly compared to the rest of the congregation, and it was not because he lacked English skills. He simply refused to rush prayer, and he had a hearing problem. So he was always a few words behind everyone else. I’ve never forgotten his voice or that he did that. As a kid, I thought it was ridiculously hilarious. Today, I appreciate the lesson: don’t rush prayer. My parents used to make us pray our Father every time we started driving somewhere. My mother used to do the sign of the Cross with her hands over my father’s place of work everytime that we drove by it. I learned when I got older that she would sometimes do the sign of the cross (possibly all the time?) over each of me and my siblings’ doors at night. People taught by example.
Turn your lives into prayer, show the need for prayer and the relationship for prayer. If you struggle in your prayer life, good! Struggling is better than it being non-existent. 🙂 In addition, though, get guidance for yourself. Get guidance so that you grow in it, so that you can teach it and convey it. Do not think that prayer will come magically later, but just like the verse we started with, let’s repeat:
Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not depart from it.