Like many new parents, I constantly heard the refrain “They grow up so fast” when my children were babies. Parents say this, of course, because it’s true. In the blink of an eye, babies become toddlers, toddlers become schoolchildren, and schoolchildren grow up and live on their own.
There’s no trick for slowing down time, but one thing that helps time stand still, if only for a moment, is ritual. Ritual takes an ordinary moment and makes it sacred. This was the guiding principle behind my book Prayers for Faithful Families: Everyday Prayers for Everyday Life (Beaming Books, 2020).
My own childhood was marked by two prayers, one for bedtime and one for dinner. They were simple prayers, and my family said them all the time. They made time matter.
In my book, I expanded the prayers from my childhood and added some for all of life’s circumstances. There are simple prayers for bedtime and mealtime, prayers for special occasions and holidays, and prayers for some of life’s most difficult moments.
In writing the book, I learned some simple principles for praying at home that I hope you will keep in mind as you pray with your families. Here are my top four tips for praying at home with children.
1. Keep it simple.
Some of my favorite prayers for children are extremely simple. One of the prayers in my book is “I lie down. I rest. I sleep. I dream.” I almost didn’t include it because it felt too simple, but readers have told me it’s one of their favorites.
When we pray, we don’t need ornate language or fancy sentence structure. We can just open up our hearts and say what’s on our minds. Children sometimes do this naturally. Pick a simple phrase or sentence and run with it. Regarding faith at home, we tend to overthink things when simplicity is best.
There’s no trick for slowing down time, but one thing that helps time stand still, if only for a moment, is ritual.
2. Be consistent.
The beauty of faith-at-home rituals lies in their consistency: Pick a time in your day for prayer (dinnertime and bedtime are most common) and say a prayer as often as you can during that time.
The power isn’t necessarily in the words—though the words are important—but in the repetition. Routine and consistency provide safety and security for children, and anchoring times of day in prayer has a powerful effect on the faith formation of children.
Thirty seconds at day’s end might not feel like much, but, practiced consistently for years, small actions add up to big results.
3. Pray about anything and everything.
Prayers for Faithful Families offers prayers for illness, a test at school, the death of a pet, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and more. Weaving prayer into holidays, special occasions and difficult moments sends children the message that we can pray in all circumstances, no matter what.
Children will begin to adopt a theology of “praying in all circumstances” when they have experience praying through the ordinary moments of life.
4. Let go of perfection.
I remember when, a few months ago, I was trying to create a holy moment with my family and my two older children started giggling and using potty humor. Even after a few attempts at redirecting everyone, they weren’t having it. The moment was not going according to plan at all. Such is life with children.
Sometimes life is rushed and prayer falls by the wayside. Sometimes there are giggles, or short attention spans, or exasperated children and parents. It’s all part of the messy and holy routine of life. When prayer time doesn’t go well one day, put it aside and try again tomorrow.
Parents, be encouraged. Prayer at home doesn’t have to be complicated and difficult—you have everything you need to make it a success. Remember to keep it simple and consistent, pray about all things and let go of perfection.
May the peace of Christ go with you as you seek to create sacred space in your household.