Samantha Stephenson describes her family's evening prayer routine. How do you and your family pray together?
Neither my husband nor I grew up Catholic, so we are sort of making up this Domestic Church thing as we go. Of course, we have great witnesses of Catholic family life that we can look to for examples, but not having lived it ourselves as children, sometimes imagining what that means just isn’t on our radar. One of these areas is family prayer. We both knew we wanted that to be an integral part of our children’s memories of growing up, an indispensable aspect of our family culture. But what does it look like? How do we start? Most importantly, how do we make it something joyful, something that draws our children’s hearts to Jesus rather than something they hem and haw about?
In case you, like us, are searching for inspiration about making family prayer time more, well, prayerful and inviting, here is the routine we’ve come up with. It doesn’t happen every night. Often it is interrupted when we have visitors staying in our home, or date night, or a late night out at a friend’s house. It’s not perfect and it does seem to be the time that our usually mild-mannered almost 4-year-old has designated as practice time for his budding gymnastics career.
But the Rio Grande didn’t cut the Grand Canyon overnight, and this practice, however imperfectly executed, has already brought such joy into our lives. Nearly every time I hear our kids pray, I am amazed at the capacity they already have for relationship with Jesus, Mary, and the saints.
If you’ve already got a great prayer routine, I’d love to hear what your family does. If you’re like us a few years ago and you’ve got nothing, maybe this will give you some ideas about where to start.
Babies go down.
Babies get baths and put to bed. At this point, kids 2 and under in our house get their own story and brief prayer/blessing with Mom or Dad, and are usually lying down to sleep around 7. (Why do we call it “putting the baby down”? It means something totally different when we say that about cats and dogs.)
Settle in for a story.
In the winter, we turn on the fire. (I miss the smell and the crackling authenticity of our wood-burning fireplace in Orange, but it’s hard to beat the ease of flipping a switch with the gas one we have now. And pretty much anything that saves on cleanup time is preferable in my book these days.) If I’m feeling festive (and energetic), we’ll have cocoa. There has been a dearth of cocoa this pregnancy.
In the warmer months, we might move outside under the porch lights (Although here in Idaho it doesn’t get dark until 10 pm in the summer. It’s been a strange adjustment but a good talking point for interdisciplinary conversations. Homeschool science and geography for the day? Check!)
These days, we are working our way through The Chronicles of Narnia. Are our 4 and 6-year-olds a little on the young side for Narnia? Maybe. But as I told my husband, there will be plenty of time for circling back when our still-brewing Chiara joins us for prayer time.
Light a candle.
This one was instrumental in getting the kids excited about family prayer time. We talked about the flame reminding us that Jesus is the light of the world, and how the smoke wafting upwards represents our prayers going up to God. It may have also been the inciting factor in some near-deafening sibling squabbles over who gets to blow the candle out at the end of prayer time. Squabbles or no, the candle adds some very Catholic sacramentality to our experience of family prayer.
Do a family examen.
This one is not so much a part of our current family prayer routine as it is an aspiration of mine. We will see if I can get my husband to buy into expanding the time we set aside for this routine. Reading this post might be the first time he hears of this idea. What do you think, hun?
The Ignatian examen was integral in my conversion and has been an important part of both our prayer lives for years, so when I saw this family examen picture book at the Domestic Church Project, I snatched it up immediately. I’ve been looking for the right time to introduce it into our routine. Maybe it will serve us better if we integrate it into our discussions at family dinner? I’ll let you know what my husband says.
Pray a decade of the Rosary.
Growing up Protestant, my relationship with Mary was somewhere between non-existent and hostile. Unwinding that and growing in love of our Mother has been quite the process over the years. (That experience helps me empathize with those whose parents raised them without religious influence to “let them decide.” Big mistake. Huge. If you grow up hearing a language spoken every day, you can always choose not to speak it yourself when you grow up. But if you never hear it spoken, it remains foreign to you. The process of learning just the basics so you can speak it in a rudimentary way is a huge hurdle. Rant over.)
I knew I wanted our kids to grow up in relationship with Mary, but I had no idea what that would look like. My daughter’s faith in “Mama Mary” has been such a sweet witness to me. We started small, just a Hail Mary at bedtime a few nights a week. By 4, she was leading us in a decade of the Rosary in the evenings. She likes to throw in a Saint Michael prayer at the end, which we think is so awesome that we haven’t even told her it isn’t really a part of the Rosary yet.
I was worried when we started this that it would be “too long and boring” in the eyes of our kids. Maybe when we progress to a whole Rosary it will be. For now, the ownership our daughter feels when she leads the decade and distributes and collects the rosaries is palpable. She has a special role in this part of our family routine, and she really values that.
Our older son is almost 4 and not quite ready to lead anything just yet. When he is, maybe we can trade off leading with blowing out the candle. At least this part of the routine can’t potentially set the couch on fire.
Take turns praying thanks and petitions.
After we finish our formal decade and St. Michael prayer, we each have the opportunity to say "thank you" to Jesus and to offer Him our petitions. No one is required to participate, but they almost always do. I will always treasure the days when our oldest son was just beginning to participate in this and he would wander around the room, saying “I’m grateful for the Church. I’m grateful for my mom.” And so on. Now that he’s older, I am grateful I got a video of one of those early prayers to look back on.
That’s all, folks. It usually doesn’t take very long, and then we all head upstairs where each kid gets a little one on one cuddle time with each of us before we say goodnight. You can read more about how this routine fits into our overall day in my post outlining our homeschool routine.
What do you do for your family prayer routine? If you have older kids, how has it evolved? Let us know in the comments!
Copyright 2022 Samantha Stephenson
About the Author
Samantha Stephenson is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mama of four, host of the podcasts “Brave New Us” and “Mama Prays,” and author of Reclaiming Motherhood from a Culture Gone Mad. Follow her blog at MamaPrays.com or sign up for her newsletter at FaithandBioethics.com to receive the latest updates on medical research, technology, and culture.