Despite many obstacles, parents try to say their nightly prayers with their children, but what about it when it gets too rough?
Tonight, Mary is feeling somewhat upset with her children, her husband, herself and with God who does not seem inclined to facilitate their evening prayer. “Everybody is dragging their feet, it’s annoying. I can’t see the point in it all,” says this mother of three. Should you insist? Should praying together be turned into an “obligation”? The answer is yes, because a family cannot go on without praying.
Some families are called to pray more than others. But all of them are called to pray. However, you should not reduce this occasion to evening prayer. There are many things you can do that will give a spiritual significance to your daily life: a benediction at mealtime, a prayer you recite in the car before driving kids to school, traditional celebrations, a prayer said before the Sunday lunch or as you pay your respects to those who passed away. These numerous gestures you address to God are going to prepare and give life to the actual family prayer.
These obstacles preventing us from praying together
In the mornings, when you are all in a rush, it will be hard to gather your little tribe for an oration. Faith in our families most often finds its outlet in evening prayer. However, it is not the easiest of tasks. Lives disturbed, days fragmented, an ever present race against time, constant exhaustion, solicitations, precipitated departures weighing on our souls and bodies are so many factors that often make “prayer” tantamount to “struggle.” “Our teens protest or boycott them; the youngest can’t hold still and fights. I fear this kind of prayer will put them off prayer,” says Isabel, the mother of five.
There exist other obstacles of more subtle nature: it might be a dad dragging his feet, too embarrassed, exhausted or indifferent to participate in this common exercise. It could be that one of the parents does not share the fervor or the love for communal profession of faith of the other, or perhaps it is a teen threatening to stir up trouble.
Most importantly, don’t squabble!
For example, a 14-year-old Jeremy is openly hostile to evening prayer: he makes faces, laughs, and refuses to participate. What is he rejecting — God, a prayer, or family prayer? There is more than one answer.
“Many adolescents are embarrassed to pray with their family. However, if they don’t want to participate in family prayer, it does not mean they reject the Lord or the prayer,” remarks Elizabeth, the mother of four. “Family prayer must be a time of peace, not a time of discord and stress,” she continues, “Every time our oldest son decides to take a shower and my husband sticks his nose into a newspaper … it’s regrettable! Maybe a day will come when we can all pray together: meanwhile, we are not going to fight about it. It would really pervert the whole purpose of praying together.”
“It’s a short prayer … but it’s our prayer”
Isn’t evening prayer anything but illusion in this case? The answer is no, on two conditions: you should really want to hold it without aiming for something impossible. “A certain sense of perfectionism almost ruined our family prayer,” attests Bernard, “We were dreaming of a real liturgy. But we barely managed a short three-minute prayer. We almost gave up but then we said no. I think that the Lord agrees. The little we can do is what we should do. In the Gospels, the boy at the feeding of multitudes had only five loaves and two fish, but he offered them.”
Eric, the father of four children, says with a sad smile, “Mother Teresa used to say that a family that prays together stays together; it’s the opposite in our case. When we pray together we fight! We have decided to only keep the Saturday night prayer, so we can have a small mini-liturgy. During weekdays we go around doing work in the house.”
What counts is to find your pace
Should you insist on praying daily at any price? The opinions on this subject vary. Some insist on consistency as the force of faith and find the pace that facilitates the rite. Others, often out of necessity, are more inclined to hold longer but less frequent family prayers.
“The important thing is to find your own pace,” says Georgette Blaquière, a French theologian and essayist. “Sometimes, it is better hold family prayers only twice or three times a week, or on Sundays. What counts is to actually live ‘for God,’ and consider this as time we consecrate to Him. Very often, we stop at the ‘educational’ aspect of prayer. We try to transform it into religious education for our children in confusing the goals and the consequences.”
Individual prayer should not be overlooked
Ideally, of course, it would be possible to “adapt” your family to the Christian way of life, so that your children grow in this atmosphere permeated by faith and can fulfill their vocation in prayer. But this is an ideal. The goal is to find the path back to individual prayer when it has been lost.
Individual prayer is the real source of family prayer. Without it, one day, family prayer risks turning into a peeling and cracking façade. In fact, for parents or children, family prayer cannot become a substitute for personal dialogue with God that takes place in the silence of a heart. On the contrary, it should merely precede it.
Luc Adrian and Christine Ponsard