On Family Prayer
DECEMBER 21ST, 2009 (IN FAMILY LIFE) By Msgr. Anselm
There is an old adage that says: “A family that prays together stays together!” Isn’t that so true! Isn’t it true that something is best taken care of when it is under the care of the one who made it? When your car, for example, is maintained by the manufacturers, its performance is likely to be optimal. So it is with families and family prayer. God created the family and intended it to function well. But like any other unit of performance, use and age are likely to bring wear and tear and in order to avoid breakdowns or even total loss of the unit, we have to keep up with its maintenance. The family needs to be serviced and maintained and the best mechanic for the job as far as the family goes is “PRAYER”.
A family that wants to stay strong and grow in abundance should pray together as a family and every member of the family needs to know the reason why. During my childhood and adolescent days, I used to tell people that my father and mother were very religious “because they make us pray every night.” While I was right that they were religious people, the reason I gave was not right. Their effort in forming us into a prayer life was not about them; it was about us, about our own relationship with God; it was about our family anchoring itself on the faith of Jesus Christ; it was about us and our future, not about their holiness. I wonder how many children think as I did about their family prayer life. Also because of the way I thought then, I couldn’t wait to grow up so that I won’t be forced to come to family prayers since our eldest brother wasn’t forced to come to those prayers because he was an adult. Imagine what happens when you are doing things without appropriate reasons and understanding.
Therefore, it is important for parents to explain to their children why the whole family needs to spend time in prayer. A very effective way of doing this is to have the whole family come together and formulate a family prayer mission statement – a statement of purpose and goals reflecting why you should pray together as a family and what you will be praying about during your time of prayer. This statement might be something like this: “We desire to honor and glorify God through our prayer, by seeking His will through His Word and by listening to His voice. Our goal is to join with Him in what He desires to accomplish in and through us as a family for the advancement of His kingdom on this earth.” You need to include your children in formulating the mission statement so that they can understand and have the right reason for participating in this most important family duty.
There are three major foundations for family prayer and the intention of this article is to discuss each one of them: (1) Family prayer should be based on God’s Word, (2) Family Prayer needs to be on scheduled time, and (3) Family prayer needs to be spontaneous and spread throughout the day.
1. Family prayer should be based on God’s Word.
The Bible says that Children should be brought up with the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). A very effective way of praying and teaching children is to help them know what God says about what they should do and not do and the promises attached to such obedience. Building family prayer around the Word helps instill confidence in our prayer. We relate to God not in a vacuum but from the standpoint of His Word and promise. In this way, we are able to approach the throne of grace with greater certitude and assurance. For example, when we integrate a Bible verse like “Children, obey your parents (in the Lord), for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother.’ …” that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth” (Ephesians 6:1–3) into family prayer, children can be encouraged to ask God to help them obey their parents. They can see that this is what God wants of them and that He has promised rewards for such behavior. By implication also, they are able to see what the consequences of disobedience can be.
In the same way, parents can pray for the strength to respect and honor each other as the Lord said: “For this is also how the holy women who hoped in God once used to adorn themselves and were subordinate to their husbands;… Likewise, you husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor to the weaker female sex, since we are joint heirs of the gift of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:5-7). Hearing you pray on these words, your children can experience a deeper sense of security as they witness you praying for God’s help too to do what is right. Moreover, you can see that when you do not respect or honor each other as husband and wife, you hinder your prayers from being heard and answered by God.
As a mother, you can pray on the words of Proverb 31:10-12, which says, “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life” and verses 28-29 which says, “Her children rise up and praise her; her husband, too, extols her: “Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all”. As you can see, your family blessings depend on how you work out your role as a wife. When your children hear you praying to God to be the best wife and mother that you can be, they themselves will begin to do likewise. In the same vein fathers can pray for the wisdom to assume their place as spiritual leaders in the home because God’s blessings upon the family depends on this: “Indeed, I have singled him out that he may direct his sons and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD may carry into effect…the promises he made about him.”(Genesis 18:19).
By praying God’s Word in this way, prayer becomes a commitment between parents, children, and God. The family is turned into a partnership where both parents and children understand one another as they strive to build a strong spiritual foundation in the home. It makes it easier for the family to find comfort in prayer knowing that their prayerful efforts are filled with promises and as the Lord has assured us, “I have promised, and I will do it.” (To be continued in next Issue)
2. Family Prayer should be on scheduled time
God designed marriage (Genesis 2:18, 24) and one of His highest priorities is to preserve it so that it may accomplish His purpose which is to enrich our lives. Unfortunately, present-day technology and the demands of industrial work have cut down tremendously on the time families spend together. With greater regularity, parents and their children distance themselves from one another emotionally and spiritually as television and all kinds of electronic games consume the life of children away from their parents. This trend has done so much damage to family relationships and to family communal life thereby breaking that unity with God that comes to the family through family prayer life.
It is important therefore that parents do what must be done to establish a scheduled time for family prayer. While God does not expect parents to be prayer experts, He does expect them to be prayer examples. If you are not currently modeling a prayer life for your children, or if you do not have a regular quiet time, now is the best time to start. Your children need to know that you spend time each day with the Lord in prayer because that is what Jesus did.
The primary and foremost scheduled family prayer should be Mass attendance. A family needs to attend mass together, sit together, and hear the Word of God together (You never know when the Lord will speak to the family through his word and the homily). The sight of a family sitting together at church is a powerful witness of the family as the microcosm of the church. The idea of sending children to a different Mass while parents go to a different mass is not ideal. Worse than this, is when couples go to different masses without any true cause. Going to mass should be a family event. It is a witness of their oneness in the Lord. The Holy Eucharist is a family meal and your family should participate in it as such.
Another important scheduled prayer life for the family is praying the Rosary together. The Rosary is powerful because it focuses on the family’s prayer on the life of Christ. Moreover, it is the easiest way to teach children the mystery of our salvation. But because the rosary takes a little bit of time, many families do not use it as family prayer. Nonetheless, it is an ideal end-of-the-day family prayer because it gives your home a true focus on God and shows your children the importance of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ in our prayer life. Ideally, the rosary should be said daily in the family but if you cannot afford to say it every day as a family, decide when it can be done a couple of times during the week, or at least once every week.
Other scheduled prayers for the family may include morning and night prayers. It is of special importance that parents lay hands on their children every morning before they send them off to school. Nothing is more powerful on a child than the praying hands of a parent. Put your hand on the head of your children every morning and confess Christ Jesus into their day. This is the greatest protection you can give them. Knowing that God will protect and rescue them from every danger provides an invaluable peace to their heart. It will help them develop trust in God as their protector and faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Likewise, at night, your family should come together as a unit to thank God for the blessings of the day. Parents should then lay their hands on their children and confess Christ into their sleep. This helps children develop a tremendous sense of security as they go to bed assured in their heart that God is in charge. Even when the children are away, parents should still begin the day and end it as a couple, pronouncing the saving power of Christ on their children where ever they may be, while proclaiming the redeeming power of our Savior over the family. As a couple, you should start your day with confessing Christ into each other’s day and by that confession claim the power of God to preserve your marriage and your family. When husbands and wives pray together for one another, for their children, and for family issues, they make a clear statement to their children without saying a word. The marriage relationship is strengthened in mighty ways as each spouse hears the petitions of the other. The couple is built up in faith and connect spiritually as they hear each other intercede on their behalf. Moreover, with these prayers constantly in their mind, they are less likely to do something that will hurt the other.
3. Family prayer should be Spontaneous and spread throughout the day.
Apart from establishing scheduled family prayers, it is important for the family to bring God and the Saints into its everyday life. The Bible urges us to, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). There are many ways which can help the family stay connected to God throughout the day. For example, you can teach your children to say the “come O Holy Spirit” prayer and ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit before they begin their classwork or homework (This prayer has a transforming power to it. I am a true witness. This prayer brought a radical transformation in my academic life. I wish I had the space in this article to tell you the whole story). You can also teach children to say a Hail Mary, or Our Father, whenever they see someone in need or someone hurting or when they see an ambulance carrying a dead body. As a parent, form the habit of taking a few seconds now and then during the course of the day to say a prayer for your children and for your spouse and teach your children to do the same. You can ask them when they come back from school if they remembered to pray for daddy and mummy today. Also in case of any family problem, bring the family together and pray about it (ask God to resolve it to His satisfaction). When simple prayerful moments like this are woven into family life, it helps the family to focus the entire day on God while at the same time helping children understand that we don’t separate our spiritual life from our secular life.
As was said at the beginning, the family that prays together stays together! The goal of family prayer life is to make God an integral part of your daily family lives. This is the surest way to develop a spiritual culture in your home which typically results in raising good children. In a study that was done about children who were raised in a home with active family prayer life (Group A) and those from non religious homes (Group B) showed that both parents and teachers rated children from Group A as showing better behavior, self-control skills and social skills than children from Group B. Prayer is the basis of the Catholic home and is more important than almost anything else in developing the loving, family atmosphere we all desire. Remember, that the most powerful witness to a child is to see his or her parents praying together. If you are not already doing this, this is the perfect time to start. Let’s get going! Tomorrow is not a promise.
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