Excerpt from Prayers for Faithful Families.
Faith at home is a journey. It’s not something we finally get right, or even finish.
—Wendy Claire Barrie
Creating a Sacred Space at Home
We can pray anytime and anywhere. The beauty of these simple prayers is that they can be prayed around the dinner table, at the bedside, in the car, or anywhere else the family chooses. That said, sometimes it’s nice to dedicate a special space for prayer. The space need not be large, but simply an area set apart as a sacred or holy place to pray. Families might choose to create a sacred prayer space where shoes are removed, voices are lowered, and cell phones are left behind. Here are some ideas for a sacred prayer space:
- Convert a closet into a prayer closet by removing the door, replacing it with a curtain, and adding a special rug and soft twinkle lights.
- Dedicate an unused corner of an extra room or basement to prayer. Hang up posters or photos that generate a sense of calm and quiet, and include soft seating for all to sit and pray.
- Instead of dedicating a physical space, consider identifying a special blanket or quilt as the prayer blanket. Drape the prayer blanket over everyone’s lap when it’s prayer time.
- Dedicate a small table as sacred space. Written prayers can be placed on the table along with candles (electric, battery, or wax). The space can change with the season.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to creating a sacred space for your family. Have fun! Follow your intuition. Do what works for your family.
Traditions, Ceremonies, and Spiritual Practices
Traditions: Most families have traditions of some sort, whether it’s a favorite recipe made for a holiday or a vacation destination every summer. Creating spiritual traditions together is a great way to solidify faith with your family. Traditions need not be complicated to be meaningful. Something as simple as lighting a candle each week during the four weeks of Advent can have profound impact. I’ve taken to including plants and seeds in my children’s Easter baskets as a reminder that Easter is a season of new growth and new life. Think about the spiritual values you’d like your children to grow up with and invent a tradition that conveys those values.
Ceremonies: Ceremonies or rites of passage are another way to bring faith home. Think about those special moments in life that merit special recognition. (Many of them can be found in the “Milestones” chapter of this book.) In addition to saying the words of the prayers provided, what if you took it a step further and created a little ceremony around the prayer? Give a little token or take a photograph. Invite family or friends to be present.
Spiritual Practices: Prayer is a spiritual practice, and this book gives you a head start at creating a lovely prayer practice with your family. There are dozens of other spiritual practices you can also adapt into your family routine, from acts of service and meditation to journaling and Bible story reading. Any spiritual practice meant for individuals and adults can be adapted to families. Adopt a spirit of experimentation and play when it comes to trying different spiritual practices together. Some will feel more natural than others.
Above all, parents looking to deepen their family’s faith at home do well to remember one thing: any effort to create a strong faith foundation at home will almost certainly face challenges. We are not perfect, and some seasons in life are easier than others to keep a steady focus on faith. Be encouraged that small efforts add up to big impact over time.
Mindfulness, Prayer, and Family Life
Mindfulness is a popular buzzword these days, but do we really know what it means or how to practice it? Simply put, mindfulness is staying with the present moment. One can be mindful while preparing dinner, getting dressed in the morning, drinking a cup of hot cocoa, or doing any other daily activity. If practiced regularly, mindfulness becomes a way of living that reduces stress and adds enjoyment to everyday life. I encourage families to practice mindfulness as a spiritual discipline because in so doing, they’ll find deeper meaning and peace each day. Practice mindfulness individually and as a family. Here are some easy ways to start a mindfulness practice with your children:
- Focus on senses. What can you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch at this moment? Do it in the car, during dinner, on a walk, while waiting in line somewhere, or so on.
- Be precise and detailed. How exactly does that hot chocolate taste? What temperature is it? What color is it, exactly? Children can be especially creative in their descriptions.
- Examine feelings without judging them. One of the keys to mindfulness is to observe without attachment or judgment. When our children tell us they are sad or tired, bored or angry, we as parents often leap into a corrective “fix it” mode, first asking “why?” and then jumping into solution finding. This is a natural impulse, but there’s also great value in teaching children that all feelings are welcome and that they can share what’s on their mind without having to explain if they don’t want to.
Mindfulness Prompts for Discussion
- Name five things you can see right now. Choose one and describe it in great detail.
- Name four things you can hear right now. Is there anything you can hear but don’t know what it is?
- Name a smell you can identify right now. What does it remind you of?
- Are you tasting anything right now?
- How are you feeling right now? Try to describe your feelings in more than one word.
- What is the temperature on your skin right now?
End your mindfulness time with a short prayer:
“God, thank you for the opportunity to observe the world around us. Amen.”
Closing Words on Praying with Children
I heard a story once about a little boy who was going in for heart surgery and pleaded with his mother before surgery, “Please, Mom, no! I can’t have surgery on my heart. Jesus lives in there!” I don’t know if that story is true or just a poignant illustration told to prove a point, but either way, the message is important to me as a Christian educator.
Children and adults go through developmental stages with regard to faith, similar to the way children and adults go through predictable physical and psychological stages as we grow and change. It’s important for educators to have a basic understanding of these faith stages and to write in ways that don’t make their writing inaccessible to some.
The heart-surgery story above is an example of literalism, and this is something the editors and I have worked hard to eradicate from this prayer book. This work has very few images that, if taken literally, can cause confusion and angst. The few images that remain are ones we feel will not do harm if taken literally.
As you journey alongside your child and watch for new developmental stages such as walking, talking, going to school, and so forth, keep an eye on your child’s faith development as well. Notice how your child’s faith deepens, grows, and changes. You’ll see subtle changes. Just as children’s physical and emotional growth proceeds at different rates, so, too, does faith development differ for each child. Many children go through periods of questioning, doubt, and separation in late adolescence, but this isn’t a given.
The prayers in this book are designed to grow with your child and to provide the breathing room your child might need. At the same time, a simple, consistent theology is woven throughout these prayers. That theology can be summed up in this way: God is love. God is good. We have much to be thankful for. God hears us all the time. Certainly different faith traditions will wish to add to this theology, but these prayers are the framework on which you can hang everything else.
Put this book down for weeks, or even months, but pick it up again, flip through its pages, and find a place where the words speak to you. Be encouraged on the journey and be blessed.
Click here to learn more about Prayers for Faithful Families.