Prayer is the entryway into the spiritual life.
It’s a practice simple enough for a child and deep enough for a saint. Praying is easy. Praying well? That’s not so easy.
For St. Teresa of Avila, prayer was about a relationship with God. Relationship is only possible when you interact with someone, sharing thoughts and exchanging ideas. That’s what prayer is about, too. It’s only effective if it’s a conversation. Our common rote prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary are very important, but they’re not conversational … and learning to converse with God can make all the difference.
In this post, you’ll learn how to teach your kids a simple form of conversational prayer that really works.
What is relational prayer and what kind of conversations do you have with God? In God Help Me: How to Grow in Prayer, Jim Beckman outlines the two “measures” for effective relational prayer — honesty and consistency.
The honesty part seems like a no-brainer, right? God knows what’s in your heart. However, he wants you to know, as well. Sometimes, unless you tell someone, you’re not aware of what you’re feeling. Honesty in prayer is not just for God, it’s for you.
For prayer to be effective, it must be real. So, the first thing to teach your kids — prayer is about talking honestly with God. Tell him all your inner thoughts and feelings. When you give him everything in your heart, holding nothing back, he can start to change you.
The second measure of prayer is consistency. You must show up. You can’t have a relationship if you don’t spend the time needed. That’s how we operate with God, though. We sometimes go long periods without saying anything to him, then we only ask for favors.
Teach your kids to treat prayer as a daily conversation with a best friend. Talk about problems, what they’re thinking and feeling, what’s bothering them, what’s keeping them up at night, and what’s making them happy. Relate temptations and desires — even if they’re sinful. Bring it all out in the open. Tell God what you’re grateful for, as well. You don’t want the time with God to just be a gripe session.
Then once you’re done talking, listen. Conversation is a two-way street. Sometimes you’ll get ideas, intuitions, and insights into the things you’ve talked about. Other times you won’t. However, I guarantee you’ll always feel better after.
You can practice this with your kids when they’re young. At that point, their lives are an open book — to you and to God. You can share something in prayer that is appropriate, perhaps concerning them, then have them share. Afterwards, have a few minutes of silence. End by talking about what they think God said.
If you establish this nightly routine, they can continue it on their own with God in private. When they’re older, they won’t want to tell you everything, but they can tell God. I guarantee this will serve them well when they’re teens.
This is the second of four posts. Read Part 1 here.
MARC CARDARONELLA, MA, is director of the Office of Discipleship and Faith Formation in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick and blogs at MarcCardaronella.com.