If your family didn’t regularly pray together (out loud) when you were growing up, your idea of what prayer is and what it should sound like probably came from the prayers you heard in church. Stop a minute and think about the implications of that. Such was the case for me, and I’ve found that it has significantly impacted my prayer life to this day.
Growing up, the only prayers we said together were at holiday meals (and we were a Christian family!). Based on what I experienced at my Christian friends’ homes, I know that my family was not alone in this lack of a prayer life. It was so rare to see a family praying together that I specifically remember the very few instances I witnessed . . . because I was terrified I would be asked to pray out loud with them.
Fast forward to age 35. I am still terrified to pray out loud. I know that many other Christians are as well.
The problem here is NOT about praying out loud in and of itself; the problem is that a fear of praying out loud is a symptom of an underlying concern over whether our personal (non verbal) prayers are “correct”. At best, we might feel comfortable praying personally but when faced with those same words being verbalized we shut down in fear that we’ve been praying wrong all along. At worst, we might not even feel comfortable praying personally because we’re afraid that God Himself will think our prayers are wrong.
How does this happen to so many people? I submit that it is because so many of us grew up in homes where we only heard prayers in church.
Think about typical “church” prayers. First, the person praying often uses formal, almost poetic language like, “We bask in your amazing glory and delight in your ways”. These prayers are beautiful, but if they are the only prayers you hear, you can easily become intimidated to pray yourself when those words aren’t naturally rolling off your own tongue.
Second, we tend to hear certain types of prayers much more often in the church context – for example, prayers of praise and adoration on behalf of a congregation rather than personal prayers of supplication (requests) or requests for forgiveness. If the only prayers you hear are in church, you don’t by default have a model of the types of prayer more common in personal contexts.
Prayer is the heart of a relationship with Jesus. How can there be relationship without communication? If we want our kids to develop a relationship with Him, they have to become comfortable with prayer, and that is much less likely to happen if they only hear prayers in church on Sundays. Praying as a family regularly is critical.
We started praying with the kids at every meal and bed time about a year ago. Nathan and Kenna, not quite age 3, now pour their hearts out to God without thinking twice. It usually sounds something like this:
“Dear God, Thank you for this food. Thank you for Nathan and Kenna and Alexa and mommy and daddy and grammy and papa and grandpa and grandma and Mickey Mouse and Toy Story and Halloween and Santa and please forgive Nathan for throwing his cup and the sky is blue and I like raisins. In Jesus’ name, Amen”.
I love that they feel no boundaries in how to pray! Over time, we’ll teach them about different elements of prayer so their prayers can “mature”, but most important for now is that they are, quite simply, comfortable in prayer.
Reflect on where you were exposed to prayer growing up (Church? Home? Both?). How has that shaped your prayer life today?
Commit to praying out loud with your kids daily! If you don’t currently pray with your kids, pick one time per day to start (for example, before dinner). If you sometimes pray with your kids but it is not consistent, pick one time per day you are going to commit to. If you currently pray with your kids daily, pick a new time to add!