Every once in a while family prayer routines can seem a little lifeless. That’s when you know it’s time to mix things up! Here are six ideas for livening up your family’s prayer routines.
by Regina Lordan
Praying together or by ourselves doesn’t come easily to my family at different times throughout the year. It feels particularly challenging during busy times of transition, like the start of a new school year or the close of another. We find ourselves trying to find new routines and sometimes in doing so, we absentmindedly rush through prayer to simply check another thing off the to-do list.
But life offers little opportunities for us to pray, strengthen our relationship with God and feel his presence around us. Recalling these moments has helped us add new life into our prayers and has buoyed us out of our prayer ruts.
Prayers on the Go
A Sandwich, Prayer and a Joke
If you send your child to a traditional school, you might leave a note in your child’s lunch bag for them to read. I enjoy writing these notes for my children. I picture them having a gloomy day, flopping their lunch bag on the cafeteria table, opening it up, and discovering a sweet note from mom and dad. I picture them feeling less alone, less stressed and ready to get through the rest of the day.
Here is a new idea that might not only make their lunch note extra special, but reboot your own morning prayer routine, as it has mine. In addition to a short message, the note to my children also includes a personal prayer and a silly joke. We keep it short and simple, and hope it feels like a little hug and reminder of God’s calm presence even in the craziness of an elementary school cafeteria.
Each morning I take a few moments writing the personal prayers and focus on how I want my children to think about their relationship with God that day. Some days I have written little prayers to their patron saints, noting their particular strength and asking the saint to intercede on behalf of my child. Other days I write a prayer directly to God, and sometimes we ask Mary for her motherly help. Sometimes I ask Jesus to help my child find that one student who needs a friend.
Making the prayers personal has given me the opportunity to pray for my children in a deeper, more personal way. By welcoming God into their lunch notes, I have welcomed him meaningfully into my morning prayers.
One of my children is now a good reader, the other only just now is slowly sounding out words. Even though I leave both a note, I work through one of the notes with my younger child when she gets home from school. We read the prayer together slowly, and I use picture cues to help. That’s an after-school bonus prayer for us to share.
Pray at the Sound of a Siren
Every time we hear an ambulance siren, even while carseat dancing to the loudest music on the radio, my children remind us to turn off the music and pray a Hail Mary.
Sometimes we use the occasion to discuss the reasons for prayer: Whoever is driving that ambulance needs prayers to help him or her concentrate on the road, the emergency technicians need prayers for cool-headedeness in treating the patient, and of course the patient and the patient’s family needs our prayers for hope and healing.
We all need a good reminder that we are not alone in times of crisis. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are a community of believers. Perhaps when we are too upset and in a panic to be calm and pray, maybe someone else is out there praying for us, too.
Pray When Passing a Church
A tradition that my husband taught me when we were first married is to pray the Sign of the Cross when we pass a Catholic Church. I use the occasion to remind my children that the Sign of the Cross is actually a prayer, one that recalls that we belong to God. The Sign of the Cross represents our unity as baptized Catholics who indeed got baptized in a church. So driving by a church is also a nice time to remind my children about their baptisms and to maybe say a prayer or two for their godparents as well.
Praying with Movement, Rotating Leaders and Names
Sometimes during these prayer ruts, it is helpful to us to look back on what has worked in the past but has fallen by the wayside as our lives have changed. We have used prayer cubes, special intention prayer bags and hand movements to act out prayer. All of these ideas have worked tremendously for us.
We also have encouraged our children to take turns picking out prayers and leading us in prayer, although our youngest usually takes the prize as prayer leader. This consistently pulls us together to focus on one another, on praying and inevitably makes us giggle since she calls us with such enthusiasm and leadership regardless of her low pecking order in age.
Praying with Purpose
Lately, in an effort to really focus on praying for God’s intercession, we have used a prayer with our special intention’s name. When we pray for that person, saying his name out loud, it makes the prayer feel more personal, more calming and yet much more powerful.
Here is our favorite prayer right now, abridged for the attention span of my young children. The prayer in its entirety can be found online.
I call on you right now in a special way. It is through your power that INSERT NAME was created. Every breath he/she takes, every morning he/she wakes, and every moment of every hour he/she lives under your power.
Father, we ask you now to touch INSERT NAME with that same power: For if you created him/her from nothing, you can certainly recreate him/her with the healing power of your Spirit.
Let the warmth of your healing love pass through INSERT NAME‘s body to make new any unhealthy areas so that his/her body will function the way you created it to function and restore INSERT NAME to full health in mind, body and spirit so that he/she may serve you the rest of his/her life. Amen.— Father Larry J. Hess
Family-Created Personal Prayers
Sing a Song of Praise
My children are well-versed in prayers of intercession and petition. It’s sort of part of being a child: They need something, they ask for something. But I try to remind them that it is also important to give thanks and praise to God for what he has given to us.
Our children’s prayers of praise often come in song form and are mostly, well, free form. They form spontaneously after a hike, when tying on shoes or painting, or during imaginative play. These, to me, are the most precious prayers. They seem to come right from the Holy Spirit.
To encourage songs of thanksgiving and praise, you might try using a sentence starter and a common melody to get the ball rolling. Here are two examples:
- “Today I am thankful for my ____________________ . When you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it, when you’re happy and you know it shout, ‘Thank you God!'” (Sung to “When You’re Happy and You Know It”)
- “Thank, thank, thank you God, thank you for my ________________ . I love you so, and I will show, thank you to my God” (Sung to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”)
Write Your Family’s Own Prayer
My children’s favorite prayer of all time is a simple prayer created by my husband. What started as a routine to help my oldest get through nights of bad dreams, the prayer is now embedded deeply into our family bedtime routine.
It is a prayer asking for intercession from St. Peter, who like so many after him tried his best to be a good friend and follower of Jesus but fumbled over and over along the way. The prayer goes something like this, although it changes frequently to incorporate certain events in our children’s lives.
Sometimes (rarely ever), I say the prayer to my children, but mostly (just about always) this is a special honor given just to dad, who says it line-after-line so our young children repeat it slowly after him:
“Dear St. Peter, thank you for asking God to watch over us. Please help to be good, to sleep well and to have a good day tomorrow.”
It is short, sweet and wraps our children in God’s cozy comfort, just like a warm blanket. The prayer has become such a routine for our children that when my husband travels, I play his recorded voice for them.
The prayer is reminiscent for me of my family’s first prayer, created by my then 3-year-old sister. We have said that prayer as a family ever since. We actually still say it together now, nearly 40 years later, when we are gathered together around a meal.
“Thank you God for our food and family, and help us to be good. Amen.”
I am not sure it gets much shorter than that, and to all of us, it certainly doesn’t get much sweeter.