When we first had children we were pretty clueless in lots of ways (how to fold a nappy for example took quite a bit of mastering) and how to develop the spiritual lives of our children was no different. At the time there seemed to be little literature around that would help, so we ended up looking at what friends did with their older children. In a way this was the best way to do it. As their children grew, they changed what they did to meet the changing needs of their children. So by the time our children got to a particular age we already had examples to follow. For a long time we wanted to find ways of sharing both ideas about how different families pray and traditions of the church which support family prayer life. As a result I have written some booklets to be used for this purpose. Already, talking to people about it, others have mentioned things they are doing and so the resources I have are widening. Here is the introduction to the first booklet, which is a general guide to praying with children.
Praying with our children
It is often said that children are a gift from God. As parents, it doesn’t always feel like that and sometimes our job stretches us to the limit. However in the first few moments, day and weeks after a baby is born there is an experience of falling in love with this new being. A new baby teaches us something, not only about human nature but also about how our God regards us and the child in our care.
This lovely beginning also comes with an awareness of the enormity of the task in hand. Here is another human being to care for. Our children learn from us. They learn how to love and laugh and how to brush their teeth. They learn from watching and listening and copying. One of the things they need to learn is about faith. Children encounter God without our help but we can foster their experience, in order that they might deepen their relationship with God. This needs stillness, silence and listening on their part. These are not words that are always associated with children. These skills have to be learnt by them. Teaching children to pray can be one of the ways we co-operate with God so that our children can become who he created them to be.
Being a model
Part of this process is our own prayer life. There are many people whose own prayer life was helped by seeing their own parents pray. This does mean that we have to be prepared to have these times interrupted and for little, wriggly people to join in. It brings a different feeling to prayer when you do it whilst being climbed on! When our children started to read we had many morning prayers that were very long and we waited while a child read slowly and painfully through a verse from one of the psalms for the morning. This could be frustrating and difficult at times but was also important for them to participate, whenever they wanted to, in our prayer life.
Children also need to learn pray by doing it themselves. In this way they join in with the worship of the Church. The Orthodox have the idea that there is only one liturgy; that what happens at the Divine Liturgy on a Sunday carries on at home during the week. The Family is the domestic church. Specific times need to be set-aside for praying together. This allows prayer times to fit the needs of individual children, gives time for the family to worship together and experience the presence of God.
If you would like a copy of this or the Advent booklet, or if you already do something that would help others, please let me know.