I think one of the biggest illness of our time affecting families is busy-ness. I remember the first few years of our marriage being always on the go – I worked full time, my husband worked full time, we never said no to anything, we helped, we gave, we spent time with friends…. and all of that left little time to actually be what we were called to be. A family.
As we’ve matured a little in our marriage and grown as a family (both in years and size), something we’ve tried hard to fight for is creating an atmosphere that speaks of where our hearts are to our children. Daily and regular prayer both individually and as a family is a clear witness to our children that our hearts are set on Christ. We’ve learned that prayer doesn’t always come naturally and can even feel like a chore sometimes – but if we go by feelings alone we almost never pray. Creating a habit of small and easy prayer times as a family has been a huge help for us in this area.
We always tell our boys that God comes first, family second, friends last. It’s over simplistic but for their young minds it helps them see that our Faith isn’t a side aspect to living – it is literally how “we move and live and have our being.” Prayer is vital to witnessing that to them. If I don’t pray, I don’t love God. It’s as simple as that.
What our family prayer looks like is always evolving. The point is that we consistently (and daily) pray together and live like Christ is the center of our lives. We want to love God intensely and invite our children into that relationship – to make that happen we have to pray. Method isn’t the goal – communion with Christ is.
Here are some easy and quick ways that we’ve created a prayer habit in our home:
- Pray every morning no matter what. First and foremost we try to make this an individual habit. I had an awesome college friend that said every morning she lifts her hands straight up in bed to praise God as soon as she wakes up. I loved the thought that there was a physical habit to start the day focused on God and not self. Because of that example, I try to make the Sign of the Cross as soon as I open my eyes. This is a habit you can teach your children easily when they wake up. As soon as my kiddos come out from the room, I say “let’s say good morning to Jesus and thank Him for another day!” and we make the Sign of the Cross and do a short prayer if they have enough attention span that day. If you have older kids or teens, say a short prayer of thanksgiving for the day out loud in front of them and invite (don’t force) them to join you. Let me be clear: THIS IS NOT QUIET AND PEACEFUL AND MEDITATIVE. The point is to build a habit. If you have tiny tots or hormonal teens, just doing it daily is enough. Don’t get caught up in posture and perfection.
- Take advantage of the Divine Mercy hour. Every single day during the 3pm hour, I tell my family it’s the Divine Mercy hour and we stop what we’re doing, make the Sign of the Cross, and say “Jesus, I trust in You” three times. That’s it. It takes ten seconds.
- Pray before meals. This one seems obvious, but get a bunch of screaming kids around a table with the last batch of tortillas burning and it’s totally forgettable. Praying before eating is a great way to take one minute and quiet our hearts as a family and recall the presence of God together. We focus on teaching the Sign of the Cross during meal times for young kiddos and encourage reverence as much as they can developmentally.
- Pray after meals. This is a tradition that seems to have fizzled out in a lot of Catholic circles. I love that it book ends the meal time with prayer – it’s really made it feel like a sacred time as a family beginning and ending the meal in prayer. Another bonus is it keeps everyone at the table until we’re all done eating. (We pray: We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, Almighty God, who live and reign forever. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.)
- Pray before driving. Before we drive away, we make the Sign of the Cross and pray. (This is the prayer way say: We place ourselves under the protection of the most Precious Blood of Jesus and in Mary’s mantle. Amen.)
- Pray in the evening before bed no matter what. At least weekly we try to do a decade or more of the Rosary in the living room. The big kid loves praying Hail Marys because we told him that each one is like giving a flower to Mary in heaven. One night he exuberantly asked if we could give Mary 100 flowers – um, maybe next time buddy 😉 When we don’t pray all together, we pray with the kiddos individually before they fall asleep and have them say goodnight to Jesus. On really busy or stressful nights we just do one Hail Mary and the Guardian Angel prayer.
- Bless each other at night. Sometimes this includes holy water if we remember (and I really need to remember because holy water is awesome). We make a small cross on their foreheads with our thumb and say “God bless you! I love you!” It’s so simple but powerful. Our big kid has started to bless us after we bless him and it is so precious and hilarious. He once wanted to give me a “really big blessing!” and started at the back of my neck on down to my chin and across to both ears. I felt really holy after that 😉 My husband and I also bless each other before falling asleep.
- Go to Mass every Sunday. Love always finds a way. When we feel tempted to miss Mass, I have to honestly reassess my priorities and if I really love God. We went through a season where I wanted to just not go. I was hauling a toddler and an infant while still recovering from a c-section and blood transfusion by myself to Mass every other weekend through snowy roads. My husband was able to meet us there most Sundays, but he was exhausted from a 3 day work weekend away from us and barely pulling it together himself. It sucked. I can’t begin to explain how much it sucked. But you know what? It was worth it. Every single Sunday it was worth it. If I had made myself the victim and complained enough, I had plenty of humanly justifiable reasons to skip Mass. But we knew that wouldn’t get us anywhere. And I praise God we didn’t because we NEEDED those graces at that time. I learned the times when it’s hardest to make it to Mass, make it through Mass, and want to go to Mass are the times we need the grace the most. (Note: if you are literally homebound or ill and cannot/should not leave the house, call your parish! There should be someone available to bring you Communion as a sick and/or homebound parishioner.)
- Visit a church once in a while. This is easy and takes just a few minutes of thinking ahead. Most churches are open during the week days (call and ask) or an hour before Mass. If you’re in the area, drive by and pop in. I love showing our kids how easy it is to love Jesus and be loved by Him – He’s waiting in the tabernacle for us and even a one minute visit (we’ve even done 30 seconds) is powerful way to open the door of our hearts to grace. I read once that many Saints would go out of their way to simply walk or drive by a church in order to pass by Jesus. We do this if we don’t have time to get the kids out of the car and when we drive by we have them wave and say I love you Jesus or make the Sign of the Cross. I’ve even parked in front of a locked church on a hard day and prayed.
- Read Scripture out loud. We’ve done Liturgy of the Hours in the morning which is a great way to saturate the kids with the Word of God as they play (older kids can pray it with you if they can read). Another thing we’ve done is read a short Scripture verse out loud during our prayer time in the morning or at dinner. With older kids, you can read a longer verse together at meal times and discuss it as you eat as a sort of Bible study as a family. (Download my 30 Days of Scripture as a Family if you need a place to start – it has 30 days of short Scripture verses you can pray out loud as a family).
It’s taken us a while to realize that it isn’t about finding the right prayer, the perfect time when everyone is sitting down and quiet, or the best format. It’s just about gathering together and praying – actually being in the presence of our all loving God and offering up our lives to Him. The fruit of this daily prayer habit has been undeniable in our home.
(If you’re looking for a practical way to help figure out how to carve out some time for family prayer, be sure to check out my Catholic Family Prayer planner for a free download.)
What are some ways you pray daily as a family? I’d love to hear from you!