Colleen Duggan

How to Teach Your Children (And Yourself) To Pray

About twice a month my husband John and I schlepp our six children across town in our neon white Ford passenger van to the Sacrament of Confession. We’re regulars at this particular church, so I was surprised when one Saturday afternoon a few years ago, I stumbled into the silent wooden box and discovered a visiting priest hailing from India.

I knelt in front of the screen, the darkness and sense of spiritual peace settling around me. As per usual, I ticked off my litany of sins and when I finished, the priest took a deep breath like he was preparing for Armageddon. Then, for the next ten minutes, he counseled me in one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. He was firm and impassioned and when I said something frustrating to him, he turned his entire body to look at me through the screen. The whites of his eyes flashed in the dimly lit booth and quick words tumbled out of his mouth as he corrected my misguided thinking. Several times he shook a crooked pointer finger at me much like a mother might do to a wayward child. He was firm, but supremely loving. He called me out for the many small though admittedly egregious areas of neglect I’d been sowing in my spiritual life, especially as it pertained to my children.

I never once felt condemned.

I never once felt ridiculed but experienced—as only God the Father can manage—a full download on my spiritual state of affairs. Here’s a newsflash: it was bleak.

During the course of our conversation, one of the areas of neglect that Father unearthed was my lack of attentiveness to the prayer lives of each of my children. In fact, he asked me directly how and when I was praying with my six children.

I couldn’t lie to him:  I had given up the practice. 

I was faithful in bringing my kids to Mass, of course, and in making sure they attended the necessary religious education classes so they could receive the Sacraments. I dropped off and picked up carpools for youth group, but I had abandoned my responsibility to teach my children to talk to God heart to heart. We managed wrote prayers together as long as I had the stamina to manage the ceaseless waring between siblings. Since I was doing my part to teach them the basics, I figured it was on Jesus to cultivate a personal relationship with each one of my children. 

Looking back, I’m not sure why I thought my kids could manage how to have heart to hearts with Jesus when it’s taken me decades of studying and reading before homing in on a spiritual practice that enables me to regularly chat with my beloved Father (and I’m 42 years old!)

That afternoon as I left the Confessional though I took seriously Father’s gentle admonishment to teach my children to pray and I set about trying to find a way to help them. It’s taken me some time, but I finally discovered a fool proof method for both me and my children to hear God’s voice. (Note these steps are taken from this book by Mark Virkler. For more information on this prayer method, I recommend his easy to read text).  

Here’s what I did: I purchased prayer journals for each of my six children. Then, I gave each of them a private, brief tutorial on how to pray to Jesus using four easy steps:

  1. Quiet your mind and heart.
  2. Picture yourself with Jesus.
  3. Tune to the spontaneous thoughts that light up your mind and heart (These are from God.)
  4. Write them down in your journal.

My children range in age from five to fifteen and all of them (with the exception of the youngest) have successfully heard the voice of God using these four easy steps. Together, we gather many evenings before bed, still ourselves, read the daily reading together and talk to Jesus. The kids write down his words and even draw pictures of what He’s said to them. They regularly have beautiful visions of themselves with Jesus, a reminder to me that the Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to minister the hearts of all people in unique and creative ways, especially children. The practice has allowed me to see the various ways God tends to the different needs of each of my children, it has personally edified me, and has deepened my connection with each of them.

If you are looking for an easy way to teach your children to pray—as Father encouraged me during my profound experience in the Confessional that day—I encourage you to try to the four easy steps for yourself and with your kids. I promise you, this approach to prayer will change your life. 

I know because it’s changed mine…and my kids.

*Do you have an effective method of teaching others to pray? If so, please feel free to share it with us! OR if you have success using the four easy steps to hearing God’s voice, send us an email and tell us about your experience! We’d love to hear from you! God bless you! Email us at info@endowgroups.org.

Colleen Duggan is an author, Catholic wife, mom of six, and speaker. She writes about Catholic family life here and her articles have also appeared on Catholic Exchange, CatholicMom.com, and Aleteia. Her new book Good Enough is Good Enough can be found on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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