Despite what some feared might be our last few days on earth on the twenty-first of December, our Lord has given us the gift of a fresh, new year of life, and all around us people are forming resolutions for self improvement.
I myself have a modest list of resolutions this year, and at the very top is "more family prayer." Going through the seasons of the liturgical year as an adult has taught me a few things, and one of the more practical lessons that has remained with me has been how to set spiritual goals which are realistic and specific. It's not that I don't have a million things I should improve, but more that I realize I need to tackle the ones that matter the most, first.
I find that I can be very impatient with myself. It seems as though where prayer is concerned, some people are scaling mountains and slaying dragons while I feel like I keep lighting a small candle that the wind blows out several times a day. It's good to keep in mind that as we seek to grow closer to Jesus and the promises of heaven that we remember that there is no finish line in the pursuit of holiness. Everyone will be going at a different pace, and the path will not always be in an upward linear fashion. There is a lifetime to reach our goals and to discover the rich treasures which our Faith gives to us. We must not be afraid to make mistakes, bounce back from set-backs and reflect on what we feel have been failures. These are all parts of our spiritual growth and journey. The important part is not giving up!
In my searchings, I came across this article written by a Catholic author named Paul Thigpen in 1995. I found his suggestions for family prayer to be very wise and thorough, and I asked him for permission to share them. If you too are looking for inspired ways to pray with your family, do not wait for the perfect "thing"to happen, or worry about what another family is doing that isn't working for you. Just start with something small that fits with your family, and see where it leads. God will bless and multiply your efforts!
25 Ways to Pray as a Family
1. Find a regular time for daily family prayer that fits everyone's schedule, then make it a priority. A thousand distractions will try to keep you from establishing this discipline in your home, but persevere. No matter how much you pray alone, your family needs to pray together as well.
Try setting aside ten minutes a day at first. Once you've formed the habit, you can expand the time without much difficulty. The important thing is to get started and stick with it.
2. Teach your kids the basic elements of prayer. Making requests is only one aspect of talking to God. To remember the other important elements, think of the letters of the word "ACTS":
- A is for Adoration: praising God for who He is.
- C is for Confession: admitting to God our sins and telling Him we're sorry.
- T is for Thanksgiving: recalling all that God has done for us.
- S is for Supplication: making requests, both for others (intercession) and ourselves (petition).
3. Join family prayers to the Scripture. Pray a psalm responsively as you do in church. Read together from the Scripture lessons designated for the day and let the words shape your thoughts in prayer.
4. When you pray together, combine spontaneous prayer with fixed forms of prayer such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. Both kinds of prayer are important: Fixed forms help us find the right words, remind us of concerns we might otherwise have forgotten, and relieve us of the burden of trying to make every prayer new and different. Spontaneous prayer, on the other hand, allows us the flexibility to tailor our prayer to the needs of the moment and keeps us aware that we're having a conversation with a living Person.
5. Make song a part of family prayer. Music can lift our hearts to God and allow us to express our feelings in ways the mere spoken word can't even touch. Sing praise songs throughout the day. If no one in your home is musically gifted, don't worry--as one old Bible translation puts it, just "make a joyful noise unto the Lord!" (Psalm 66:1 KJV).
6. Tell your children that prayer is a two-way conversation. We should spend some time listening to God as well as talking to Him. Sometimes after a few minutes of silence in His presence, we can hear in our minds His words of comfort, discipline or direction, or we can simply feel His love and concern.
7. Teach your kids that prayer is a discipline and a privilege. So much in our culture leads them to assume that to be worthwhile an activity must feel good and be entertaining. Let them know that even though prayer is often a pleasure, it is also work. We pray, not for fun, but because it's the right thing to do.
8. Divide up intercessory responsibilities when you pray together as a family. Make sure each person has at least one concern to focus on, then take turns leading in prayer.
9. Any time family members have a concern they want others to bring to God, have them add it to a family prayer list on the refrigerator door. Then pray through the list during family prayer times.
10. Take on a prayer project with your kids. Discover a need someone has that only God can fill, then commit yourselves to interceding for the situation until you see an answer.
11. Encourage your children to start a prayer journal, perhaps in the form of letters to God. Writing down their conversations with the Lord can help them clarify their thoughts. Later they'll profit from reading over what they wrote in light of later events.
12. Keep a "thanksgiving book" of your family's answered prayers. Review it whenever you need to stir up your faith in God's provision. Swap stories of answered prayer with other families.
13. Pray together for people and situations in the news, especially government leaders and victims of war or natural disaster.
14. Build a family habit of taking problems to God as soon as they arise. Make prayer your first response to a challenge, not your last resort.
15. Pray about the small things together. Whatever concerns your children concerns the Lord. Be specific and concrete in your prayer requests.
16. Pray your family table grace in public places without embarrassment or apology. Show your kids you're not afraid to let strangers see your faith.
17. Be on the lookout for the "prayable moment." Maybe you and your teen have just watched the sunrise at the beach, and you feel close to God just now. Perhaps a favorite pet just died and your preschooler needs the Lord's comfort. Some occasions naturally invite us to pause a few minutes and talk with God.
18. Make basic, perennial concerns permanent items on your family prayer list,such as the Church, the poor, the sick, and the government. Honor the Holy Father's request that children everywhere pray for world peace.
19. When your family receives a bit of good news -- the announcement of a new job, the birth of a nephew, top grades on a report card -- celebrate together bypraising God on the spot. Give the Lord a round of applause, a rousing cheer, or anything else that says to Him, "Thank you!"
20. Help your children practice daily self-examination in prayer. Bedtime is the traditional time for a brief review of the day, with thanksgiving for God's favors and confession of our failures.
21. Discuss the meaning of the words in the prayers of the Mass so your kids will understand what they're saying in Church.
22. Pray the rosary and an occasional novena as a family. Talk to your children about how the words of repetitive prayers can press themselves deep into our hearts and free our minds to meditate on the mysteries of faith.
23. Teach your children about the saints and how God has granted us the great favor of their intercession. Join your family in asking them to pray for you.
24. Tell your children about their guardian angel and teach them to ask his protection daily. Read to them what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the role of angels in our lives (see sections 328-336).
25. Finally, remember that the best way to teach prayer is to model it to your children. Make prayer a way of life. If your family sees that you and God have frequent, intimate conversations, they'll be more likely to want to build their own friendship with Him.
Wishing you and yours a very happy and blessed new year, and may you prosper with God's blessings in all you seek to do!