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home : opinion : perspectives

6/23/2011 5:27:00 AM
Slow: Families at prayer

Dinner at our house is typically a noisy affair. With forks held in mid-air and the youngest already chewing, we set about saying grace each night.

It's certainly not the style of prayer you'd hear in a silent monastery or a soaring cathedral, but it's the only style of prayer that works in our not-so-quiet domestic church. And that's okay; in fact, it's better than okay.

Adapting prayer to suit our family is the best way to help our children see prayer not as something separate from the rest of their lives, but as something that can be woven into daily routines, even the most chaotic ones.

We don't need to strive for peaceful, prayerful perfection, but rather an atmosphere where prayer - any prayer - is simply part of the everyday equation.

We can start by helping our kids take those first baby steps. My five-year-old says the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" before bed, stumbling over big words she can hardly pronounce, no less understand.

But it's not about the exact words; it's about an attitude of prayer. We want our kids to learn the words eventually, but just showing up for prayer is half the battle, whether you're five or 50.

It's easy to build from there: a blessing before a big trip, a prayer to a guardian angel for protection, a suggestion to pray the Rosary during a sleepless night or time of stress.

It helps, too, if the signs of our faith are visible. Our children take for granted the religious articles scattered throughout our house, from the crucifix in the living room to the holy water font near the front door to the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the backyard.

Those may seem like small things, but each one carries a story, a lesson, a seed of faith.

In our incredibly busy lives, we make it a point at our house to eat dinner together almost every night, and it is there we most often come together in prayer as a family.

Grace before meals may not seem like such a big deal in terms of fostering faith, but even that brief pause can be a first step in teaching our children to turn to God - not only in times of crisis, but in the most mundane moments of their lives.

Mealtime has become the most likely place for us to add in other prayers, as well: the Advent wreath, the Lenten Rice Bowl, special intentions for friends who are sick.

Of course, the most powerful prayer lessons often come in unexpected ways, in what our children see and hear when we don't think they're listening or watching.

One afternoon, when I was complaining about some minor problem, my five-year-old said, "Why don't you just talk to God?"

I wasn't sure how she'd made the connection between God and what I was saying. Then she mentioned another time I was frazzled and talking out loud to God. She had picked up on the fact that I often talk to God - not in traditional prayer form, but as if I am talking on the phone with a friend - when I'm stressed.

It wasn't something I had planned, but that clearly was one of my most successful teachable prayer moments. She understands the most important part of any prayer: God is a good friend, someone who will always listen, whether we are kneeling in church or driving through Delmar.

(Mary DeTurris Poust is a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Delmar, a blogger and the author of several books on faith. Her most recent book is, "The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass." For more information, visit www.marydeturrispoust.com. Find her blog at www.notstrictlyspiritual.blog spot.com.)

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