If you want to build a good relationship with someone, you need to regularly connect with them. Prayer is connecting with God, whether we speak or we listen. As our children learn to pray, it grows their connection to Christ. For the next two weeks, we’ll focus on some goals in the area of prayer. Let's start simple.
GOAL #1: Mealtime Prayers
One of the simplest ways to introduce prayer in your family’s routine is to consistently pray before each meal. If this is a new idea for your family, I have some ideas for you! If you’re already praying before meals, good for you! You may want to take a moment to consider a few things that may help your family continue to grow in this area:
- Do your children know why you pray before meals or is it just a habit?
- Do each of your children take turns praying before meals?
- Are your children praying from their hearts or just from their heads?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I try to find biblical reasons and references for what I ask my children to do. Jesus set an example for us in Matthew 14 when he gave thanks and blessed the food before he fed the five thousand. Later in Matthew 26, he blessed the food at the Last Supper in the same way. Consider reading those chapters together as a family to introduce mealtime prayers or to reinforce why you do what you do. Here are some other benefits of praying before a meal:
- Pausing to thank God before we eat shows that God is important to our family and that we value connecting with Him.
- It is an act of self-control when we choose to pray before we eat, overruling our growling stomachs and natural desire for food.
- Thanking God for our food acknowledges that He is our Provider, not our job or our paycheck.
- A prayer of thankfulness also cultivates a heart of gratitude, even for food that may not be our favorite.
Say the Word
There is no formula for what to say or special words you have to use at a mealtime prayer. Jesus thanked God for the food and then He blessed it. Many people also include a prayer to bless those who prepared it or a blessing that the food would “strengthen and nourish our bodies.” I once visited a church where every member prayed for their pastors during each mealtime prayer. Ask God what He wants your family to include.
Prayer is talking to God, so speak like you to do to a friend. If you are working so hard on making the prayer eloquent, then the focus is on you and not the prayer. Not only will a simple, heartfelt prayer help your young children understand what you’re saying, but it will show them that they are able to pray, too.
We did try to keep the length of the prayer proportional to the age of the child. For the infants in a high chair, a lunch prayer might be, “Thank you, God, for our food. AMEN.” For toddlers, you may want to find a rote prayer, such as “God is great,” that helps them know what to pray. In time, they should become more comfortable with praying from their hearts.
Lead the Way
If this is new to your family, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind.
- Communicate with your family that you are beginning a new tradition and give an age-appropriate why. (ex. to help us connect with God, because the Bible asks us to pray, etc.)
- You may want to put something on your table, like a candle, to remind you to pray before each meal.
- Consider what posture your family will have when you pray. When my kids were little, I had them fold their hands and bow their heads. Some families hold hands to make a circle. When I was growing up, we just rested our hands in our lap so we didn’t sample the food during prayers.
- It may be easiest for parents pray for a week or so to set an example. Eventually, you’ll want to rotate among family members so everyone has a chance to lead in prayer.
- Under no circumstances should you force a child to pray. If you are facing opposition, address them in private after the meal. Pray with your spouse that your child will have a change of heart.
If your family already prays at meal time I’d love to hear about your traditions, and if this is new to you, tell us about what you are doing for your family!