Prayer has great benefits at home. The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that successful marriages and families are handled with prayer. According to research, couples report that prayer brings them closer to God and helps them reduce their anger. They also say they are able to change their perspective and receive divine instructions through prayer. Many couples rely on prayer when addressing marital problems, and they report its helpfulness in dealing with conflict, increasing positive interactions, reducing verbal aggression, and improving overall marital health. However, in order to succeed, prayer needs to be more than a routine. Meaningful prayer can strengthen bonds, build unity, and reinforce values.
What can we do to make it happen at home? Here are some ideas:
- Plan a time everyday. Whether it is in the morning, the evening, or around the dinner table make sure your family knows when it's time for family prayer. The same is true for couples. Plan a time when you will kneel together in prayer. Schedules are hectic and time is hard to find. Having a set time will help a couple remember to pray. One caution, however. Do not let your prayers become routine, or memorized, simply because they are at the same time everyday. Remember the benefits that come through honest prayer.
- Involve everyone. Many times parents decide when their family will start a new family ritual. At times this is dangerous. Your children are much more likely to attend (without a fight) if they help plan. Children's schedules are often as busy as our own and need to be considered. Family planning helps family execution.
Be consistent. Stay true to your plan. Buses will come calling and phones will be ringing but a family must take time for prayer. Do not fall into the trap of praying when it is convenient. Unless prayer is planned for it will never appear to be convenient. Schedules are too busy to not be intentional. Always make time from prayer. Make it a priority and stick with it. Also, don't give children or a reluctant spouse the power to pull the plug. If they don't want to actually pray, but will participate, don't give up. Simply take the lead and pray together.
Be Creative. Some families are larger, and different schedules can make life quite hectic. Do your best to involve everyone, but also be realistic. You may need to have more than one family prayer to include everyone. A story is told of a mother who had family/couple prayer with her husband who arose early for work. Later, she held family prayer with the older siblings as they went off to school. And finally, she had family prayer with the little ones who woke up later. Although the whole family wasn't present at the same time, it was still family prayer. Besides, you can show your children the importance of prayer and make special connections with each family subgroup as they kneel to pray.
A common struggle that families face when trying to have family prayer is coordinating everyone's schedule. It is not necessary to have only "one" family prayer. As children grow older and their schedules become more hectic, it may be necessary to have four or five "family" prayers during the day. Don't simply give up because it's impossible to gather everyone together at one time. Pray with as many as you can, and then pray with those you've missed. This does not offset the benefits of family prayer. In fact, it often enhances the benefits for those involved. Occasional prayers with smaller groups of family members can help strengthen the personal relationships of those involved.
A young man tells a story about his mother and how she prayed separately with him everyday. He left for school before the others arose and therefore could not benefit from prayer with the entire family. His mother, however, did not let him leave without prayer, even though it would have been more convenient. Rather, she knelt and prayed with him everyday before he left. He later recounts that his most prevalent memories of family prayer were when he knelt together with his mother.
- Pray Always. Prayer can change one's perspective. The more prayer experiences one has, the more likely one's perspective will be in harmony with God's. You will be less angry, more neutral, and more aware of each other's needs. Constant prayer prevents perspective loss. The more you pray, the more you see things through God's eyes. You also learn more about who you are and what things you can do to improve your relationships.
- Be Aware. Children learn quickly. They will easily perceive your attitude towards prayer. If Mom is always instigating prayer and Dad grumbles along, children will learn to devalue prayer. Also, if you allow schedules to take priority over prayer they will learn that prayer takes a backseat to convenience. Be aware of how you portray prayer and its importance in your marriage and family. The same holds true for couples. If one spouse is constantly avoiding prayer, a value will be taught.
- Don't Wait. Many newly married couples decide they'll wait to pray as a family when they have a family. Do not wait to begin. Family prayer should begin as soon as the husband and wife become a family. Other families who are not accustomed to prayer often wait for something to change. Do not wait for different circumstances. It may take a little effort, or a little preparation, but start today.
- Be Adaptable. Families need to adapt to their environment. If you have young children in the home prayers need to be short. Children will quickly lose interest in long, "boring" prayers. If prayers are always long and children always lose interest, they will begin to form a negative image of prayer. A couple, on the other hand, can pray together for a longer period of time. Their prayer language may be at a higher level than the language used with kids. Take an inventory of your situation and adapt accordingly. Also, let children participate. As mentioned above, family prayer is a teaching tool. Children will learn the basics of prayer by listening to parents and older siblings, but they need practice. They need to learn how to share their feelings and ideas about the family with God.
- Be Flexible. A plan is important, but there may come a time when you need additional prayers. Hard times require harder prayers. Don't get locked into a routine to the point that extra prayers are not common. Many times a certain family will need specific help. Gather the family together and pray for those needs. For example, if there were an argument in the home, a couple or family could kneel together in prayer to reduce those feelings of anger. Specific needs call for specific prayers.
Written by Andrew S. Brimhall, and edited by Mark H. Butler and Stephen F. Duncan, professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Butler, M. H., Gardner, B. C., & Bird, M. H. (1998). Not just a time-out: Change dynamics of prayer for religious couples in conflict situations. Family Process, 37(4), 451-478.
- Doherty, W. J. (1997). The intentional family. Boston: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.
- Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Jewell, T., Swank, A. B., Scott, E., Emery, E., & Rye, M. (1999). Marriage and the spiritual realm: The role of proximal and distal religious constructs in marital functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 13, 321-338.