Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you. The one who rises from prayer a better person, that prayer has been answered. – The Gates of Prayer for the Sabbath, a Jewish prayer book
Family prayer is the oldest ritual found in the Bible. It is the oldest of traditions,” points out Rabbi Ken Kanter of Congregation Micah in Brentwood. “It brings generations together in a common goal.” The goal of prayer itself may be praise, thanksgiving, repentance, asking for help, praying on behalf of someone else, or some combination of these. But the goal of praying together as a family has more to do with parents teaching values to their children and making sure they know they are loved and protected by God, who is even more powerful than parents.
“Prayer brings families closer together, especially if they pray together,” says Brenda Kean, a Nashville mother of three girls. “It puts things in the right perspective. It lets kids know there’s a God out there who is a provider and a protector. Prayer is important because God answers prayers and children need to feel secure in that.”
When her oldest daughter, 9, recently underwent major surgery to correct a defect in her breast bone, “she was cool as a cucumber,” Brenda recalls. “She was so at peace. I don’t think she was ever afraid. We said prayers over her, and she knew a lot of family and friends were praying for her speedy recovery and to have minimal pain. It gave me a sense of peace, too.”
Lorie Browning, a mother of three who attends Bellevue Church of Christ, says her family almost always says grace at dinner; sometimes they say bedtime prayers and sometimes they pray in the car on the way to school. She says that praying together draws her family closer, as well as closer to God.
“It makes us closer just by setting aside that time together,” she says. “Sometimes we hear needs of other family members that we may not know about. And it’s even been effective in de-escalating a tense situation, like when the girls are starting to argue with each other or I’m about to lose my temper.” She says if they just stop and say a quick prayer – asking for patience or understanding – it focuses their thoughts on something other than what was upsetting.
Father Mark Beckman, a Catholic priest at St. Matthew’s Church in Franklin, says that parents are their children’s primary religious educators, so the home is the first place children will learn about prayer.
“I think most families teach their children a blessing to say before meals that they memorize and say every day, and maybe a bedtime prayer the same way,” Beckham says. In the Catholic Church, children will later learn to pray the rosary, where they follow a pattern of beads with their fingers. It is a repetitive prayer,” Father Mark says, “and a responsive prayer in families. The idea is that by repeating a memorized prayer, the mind is freed up to contemplate the mysteries of God.”
How to Pray?
Connie Collins, who attends Hermitage Hills Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet with her husband and son, says she struggles as a parent to teach her child to pray. “As a child I just recited ‘Now I lay me down to sleep ‘ every night a and ‘God is good, God is great’ before meals. I never learned to pray as in a relationship with God. The habit was good, but it hurt my prayer life as I became an adult because I thought this was all there was.
“I teach my son to have a conversation with God, to say thank you for the people in our lives and our blessings, and to ask for help for people who are sick,” she explains. “I want him to know that you don’t just pray before meals and at bedtime.”
Collins thinks it’s important to set a good example. “I want my son to see me having prayer time, but I struggle with how to word things in front of him. I know that God doesn’t always answer prayers the way you want Him to, so I try to say things like ‘if it’s your will, please let this person get well.’ I don’t want him to think that prayers aren’t answered,” she says.
Nan de Andrade, associate pastor of Christian education and music at Trinity United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, thinks that “it should be a very natural thing for parents to refer to God in response to what we see – to give thanks for the beautiful fall leaves – and to what we hear, asking for God to be with the person in the ambulance when we hear the siren. “There’s no special language needed,” she points out. “Just use ordinary words.”
To Amy Newell’s two children, ordinary words are often spoken in Hebrew. The Franklin mom sends her children to Jewish schools so they will learn the language and the prayers and rituals of her faith. When she prays at home with her family before dinner and at bedtime, Amy says she usually focuses on the blessings her family enjoys. “It helps you keep your perspective when you give thanks for all the things you have. I think it’s important to tell God that we really appreciate all the blessings He’s given us and I hope that it will help my kids be thankful for what they have,” she says.
Dr. Kay Gray, senior pastor at Bellevue United Methodist Church, also points out that “prayer allows us to let go of things that can get us so tangled up. Surrendering our worries to God can untangle the messes we get ourselves into.” She quotes Martin Luther, the Great Reformer, as saying, “When we are most busy is when we most need to pray.” This is because that’s when we lose sight of our values and fall into temptation, according to Gray. “Families today are so over-scheduled, it’s hard to make prayer time a priority,” she notes.
But praying together on a regular basis creates a value system in families. “When you get in touch with God’s mercy, it allows you to be more forgiving. When we pray for other people, it awakens a compassion for each other that often causes action. When we respond to good things in our lives with an expression of gratitude, it helps us be generous with others so we can pass on the gifts,” Gray notes. “When we’re aware of our blessings, we develop patience by living out our gratitude.”
Clergy of all faiths point out that the Bible tells us to pray both with others and when we are alone. “Prayer provides access to power that is God’s alone,” notes Dean Sisk, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro. “It connects us in an intimate way to a God who loves us and takes care of us. We’re encouraged in the Bible to pray with others – what more important group is there than family?”
Nancy Brown is a freelance writer who lives and worships with her family in Bellevue.
HOW FAMILIES PRAY:
Hey God, Let’s Talk” is a class for middle elementary children at Trinity United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro to teach them how to pray. Led by associate pastor Nan de Andrade, she recommends:
- Starting with short graces and prayers that can be memorized and recited.
- Using prayers of the church, such as the Lord’s Prayer, as a model to address God.
- Singing or chanting prayers, which are “made special because of the music that goes with it.”
- Gathering the family for a quiet time, giving the group a question or a word to think about for five to 10 seconds.
- Focusing on a picture during quiet time, perhaps of a favorite place or vacation spot, and listening for God.
- Holding hands when praying in a group is helpful, she says, because it symbolizes the connection with the body of Christ.
Children and Prayer: A Shared Journey
By Betty Shannon Cloyd (a Nashvillian)
Upper Room; adults
Kid’s Say Thank You God and Kid’s Say Praise God
By Andy Robb
Abingdon Press; preschoolers
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home
By Richard J. Foster
WHAT KIDS SAY ABOUT PRAYER:
“Prayer is powerful because God controls everything.”
– Jacob Herron, fifth grade
“Sometimes when you’ve done something bad, it helps to talk to God
because it feels good to get it out.”
– Elizabeth Denton, age 8
“It might actually happen if you pray for it.”
– Jackson Myers, age 7
“When you pray for somebody who’s sick, you help them get well.
That feels good because it’s helping people.”
– Savannah Brown, age 9
“Prayer makes me feel great inside.”
– Emma Howard, age 10
“If I pray for a bike, maybe I’ll get it.”
– Andy Reed, age 3