Helping teens and tweens to love prayer
BY LISA MLADINICH
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future and a hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
It can be awkward inviting young people to pray, especially if they have a poorly informed notion of what prayer is and what it can do for them. Yet most of them want to know who they are as individuals, why they exist, and where they are going, so it’s our job to show them that the surest pathway to clarity, direction, and joy is prayer.
I love the research-driven work of Matthew Kelly on the topic of prayer. His website, DynamicCatholic.com, provides a free confirmation program called Decision Point, which can be ordered as a kit or viewed online. Session four explains what prayer is and how it can change our lives for the better, using a charming economy of both words and ideas. The result is a thrilling invitation to tweens and teens to start relating in a powerful and personal way to Almighty God.
Prayer, Kelly explains, helps us answer the big questions, while it teaches us about gratitude, self-awareness, and identifying God’s voice in our lives. Peace, we discover, comes through repentance, followed by the freedom to change our lives and become better people. The power of prayer helps us to help others, and the words of the prayer that Jesus taught us should become the center of everything we do. Prayer opens us to the wisdom we need to make great decisions, Kelly says, because anything that is not God’s will is too small for us! Decision Point is inspiring material.
In your lesson planning, remember to make prayer central to everything you do. I start each class with a decade of the Rosary, right before introducing the day’s topic. Inviting Our Lady into our class time gives me confidence. I know she will be a spiritual mother to me, as well as to my students, and she is a genius at drawing souls into the heart of Christ.
General prayer intentions can be distributed and read aloud by a volunteer, placing the needs of the class, the parish, and the community in God’s hands. You might check school news outlets online to make sure you include anything that might be troubling them: program cuts, sports injuries, or tragedies among their peers. Congratulate them on academic awards, charitable efforts, sports triumphs, and other praiseworthy accomplishments. By staying in touch with their lives outside the parish, you build trust and encourage them to bring every joy and sorrow to Jesus.
Prayer journals can help you to bond with teens, too. Distribute inexpensive notebooks at the start of the first class and have them write their names on them, explaining that you will collect and read them each week but will keep them totally private. Students may use them to take notes, ask questions, and request prayers. They are collected at the end of each class, so you, the teacher, can bring them home to read and comment on them in private. You write your answers directly in their notebooks and return them each week. Journals go home with the students at the end of the school year.
Intercessory prayer harnesses your students’ desire to change the world, especially when it is linked to service. For instance, the class might vote to spiritually adopt the local homeless shelter or crisis pregnancy center, while also raising funds for them. Make sure they have contact with a representative who can provide updates and access so they can see the impact of their loving concern for others. Recognizing answered prayers intensifies their conversation with God.
Consider ending each class with a spiritual communion prayer. Hand out laminated prayer cards and have the class recite the prayer together. Hopefully they’ll memorize it over time. God never wastes our little efforts, even if we can’t see the results, now—so don’t be discouraged if they don’t react with enthusiasm. Inviting Jesus into their souls throughout the school year might become a lifelong habit and inspire an authentic hunger for the Holy Eucharist.
Outside of class, well-planned youth events and camps can be a godsend, opening the hearts of young people through adult and peer support, inspiring music, great speakers, and—most importantly—the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation. Away from the familiar voices and influences of their daily lives, many receive insights and inspirations that are new and fresh to them. Such experiences can ignite a greater intimacy with our Lord, bringing young people the graces needed to live boldly, confident in their relationship with a God who loves them.
Decision Point: DynamicCatholic.com/confirmation/
Spiritual Communion: OurCatholicPrayers.com/spiritual-communion.html
Lisa Mladinich is the founder of AmazingCatechists.com and the author of Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days (Liguori Publications).
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2017.
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