Helping People Pray: What Is Praying?

Prayer is a way of being with someone I know loves me. (St. Teresa of Avila)

by Marlene Halpin, OP

Sometimes it’s easier to discover what praying is by understanding what it is not.

Praying is not merely reading words from a book.

Written prayers can help jump-start your prayer. But at times the words do not carry the meaning in your mind or heart. When they carry the meaning in your heart, pray them. If they don’t, pray in your own honest way. Invite children to send a message from their hearts to God’s heart—give them a moment to do this. If you can’t think of words that say what you mean, pray without words—by holding up your mind or heart to God, by singing or drawing pictures or by being silent.

Praying is not a spectator sport.

Prayer may be a conversation between God and you. Just about every child can understand that God is always aware of us and always loving us. We enter into God’s loving presence by raising our hearts and minds to God. When you are leading children in prayer you can ask them, “Who truly loves you? Who listens to you and understands?” Remind them that God always does, he wants good for us and never leaves us unattended. Tell the children that God wants each of us to invite him into their minds and hearts and to look together at what’s there and to be with us however we are: helping us, loving us. Help the children to be at ease with God no matter how they are feeling at the moment. “Maybe all you can do is groan or cry, sigh or laugh, yell or be puzzled or be worried or content.”

Praying is not about fantasy but about real life.

Encourage the children to open their hearts to God about whatever is happening at that moment. “What is happening to you, to your family and friends, or to those you see and hear about on TV or read about in the papers? Are you glad about something? Tell God and be thankful. Are you sorry about something? Tell God and ask for forgiveness. Are you afraid or angry about something? Tell God, and ask for help and courage. Do you—or someone else—need help? Tell God and ask for it. Does something about God awe you? Let God know about it and praise and thank him. Whatever is in your heart is what you bring to God. Even if your heart is empty, bring God your empty heart.” Give the children time to attend to their hearts and bring them to God. You might end by leading the children in praying words that have served Christians for centuries, such as the Lord’s Prayer or the Glory Be.

You and the children can pray in familiar ways—and then trust God to lead you into praying in ways you probably don’t yet know about. God is full of surprises for you!

Marlene Halpin, OP

Marlene Halpin, OP

Sister Marlene Halpin, O.P., was a nationally recognized speaker and author on the topics of prayer and spirituality.

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