Family prayer time is a time to expose our children to our Christian faith outside the walls of the church. It is a time to set an example. It is not about forcing them to pray. It is NOT about punishing them for not doing it right, not being quiet enough or even seeming disrespectful. They are babies. Even the older ones are still young in the faith. When we feed babies and small children we give them first milk then solids. When the solids are introduced they are given in small pieces so they don't choke. It is the same with our faith and our family traditions. Small meaningful pieces go a long way in providing spiritual nutrition for our children. Helping them ingest manageable portions of Christ's love and mercy, constantly exposing them to His gentleness and grace, will help them crave more of what is spiritually satisfying as they grow. We don't know what our children are feeling at any given moment or even what their motives are when they disobey. Our younger children are experience life for the first time and our older children often can't communicate how they're feeling as they are constantly bombarded by hormones and emotions that seem to be misfiring.
So how can we handle family prayer time?
1. Keep it super simple. Instead of doing the complete prayers perhaps just say the Our Father to start with, even with older children. Slowly build as they, and you, can handle more. The important part is true prayerfulness not how much we can do. Don't get me wrong, there is great benefit to doing all the prayers prescribed by the Church and to pray continuously, but what benefit is there to the words if the heart and mind are angry and distracted?
2. Acknowledge to yourself the fact that they are children, they are learning, their lack of interest or ability does not suggest anything negative about them or about your dedication to Christ. God is not surprised or offended by our children's behavior. We must teach them calmly and gently with great love and patience. And when we don't we must humble ourselves, repent and try again in the grace and mercy of our Lord.
2. Encourage your children to seek the Lord and praise them for each small success. "Wow you were quiet during the whole Our Father!" or even "I appreciate that you came right when I called." Recognizing their accomplishments gives them the feedback they need to help them to desire what is good.
3. Don't act disappointed if your child can't/won't participate. This is a great season of learning. They need to know they are loved and wanted by us and by God no matter what. Often when a child isn't behaving there is something going on internally. Perhaps they have experienced some sort of disappointment that chooses to show its ugly head right at the moment of prayer. As adults we know how distracted we can become during our prayer times, why do we expect it to be different for our children?
5. If there are behavior issues cross yourself and continue your prayers and address the behavior at another time. We want to embrace the peace of Christ when we are in prayer (and always). When we try to discipline during prayer time it often becomes punishment and that negativity becomes associated with prayer time making our children dread that time with the Lord rather than desiring it. Address the behavior/attitude at another time when it can be discussed calmly, showing your child you care for their heart more than you care about their performance during prayer time. Remember, God was blessed by the heart of the Publican rather than simply the appearance of righteousness from the Pharisee.
Working out our salvation takes a lifetime. Just being there, just being exposed to prayer and watching the example you set as you treat them, and the world around you, with love and compassion will make a lasting impression. Let us not only pray with them, but let us pray for them that they will welcome the love of Christ into their hearts, that they will embrace the faith and that they will cling to the Cross of Christ for the salvation of their souls.
A Prayerful Sighing of Parents
For Their Children
For Their Children
LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, hearken unto me, Thine unworthy servant (name), O Lord, govern in mercy my children, Thy servants (names). Have mercy on them and save them, for Thy name’s sake.
O Lord, forgive them all their transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, that they may be perfected before Thee. O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.
Bless them, O Lord, at home, at school, in their journeys and in every place of Thy dominion. Preserve and shelter them, O Lord, from flying bullets, arrows, the sword, poison and fire, from mortal wounds and sudden death. Guard them, O Lord, from all visible and invisible enemies, and from all danger, evil and misfortune.
Heal them O Lord, from all sickness, deliver them from every impurity, and lighten their spiritual sufferings. Grant them, O Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit and a long life; grant them health and chastity in all piety and love, and to live in accord with all their neighbors, near and far.
Multiply and strengthen them, O Lord, in mental ability and bodily strength, given to them by Thee. Bless them to lead a pious life and, if it is pleasing to Thee, grant them married life and honorable childbearing.
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, give me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, a parental blessing for my children and Thy servants, both in this present time, morning, noon and night, and also in Thine eternal, almighty and all-powerful Kingdom. Amen.
O God, Maker of all creation, Thou hast made me worthy to be the mother of a family, and through Thy goodness hast bestowed children upon me; and so I dare to say: these children are Thine, for Thou hast given them being, hast infused them with an immortal soul, and hast raised them to life through baptism.
And in accordance with Thy will Thou has adopted them and received them into the bosom of Thy Church. Send down to me Thy gracious help in raising my children, for the glory of Thy name. Bestow on me patience and strength to do Thy will.
Teach me to plant in their hearts the root of true wisdom-the fear of the Lord-that all their lives they may tremble at Thy words. Open to them the understanding of Thy law. Until the end of their days let them act with the sense that Thou art everywhere present.
Plant in their hearts loathing for every transgression, that they may be pure in their signs. O Righteous Judge, who punishes children for the sins, but sprinkle them with the dew of Thy grace.
O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessings, do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity.
Be merciful to them, when they sin before Thee; look not upon the sins of their youth and ignorance; chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them. Turn not Thy face from the in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.
Cover them with Thy mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation. Amen.
From the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children
Compiled By Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
December 29th 2002