As catechists, we often pray with children. Even more importantly we are called to teach children how to pray. Teaching children the traditional prayers is a matter of course. Teaching them how to pray is another matter. The solemn responsibility to teach children how to talk and listen to God can be overwhelming for some catechists, teachers, and parents. Why? Here are the answers I’ve heard repeatedly:
“Nobody ever showed me how.”
“Nobody ever told me if I am doing it right. How do I know if I am?”
“Well, isn’t prayer, um, private?”
The key to teaching children how to pray is to start within and help children relate to meaningful relationships in their own lives.
1) Take stock of your own experiences.
You can’t give what you don’t have. Take a moment to think about what you do have. You have experience, a history of God’s working in your life. Pause often enough and long enough to remember how you have experienced God. Let your heart respond to those memories.
2) Remember that Jesus calls us friends.
I have a friend named Virginia. Virginia and I talk about anything and everything. We puzzle over what doesn’t make sense, worry about troubles, and find humor in odd places. Always the experience of her friendship is a genuine treasure. Even though we’ve been friends a long time, we still surprise each other.
If you can name a Virginia in your life, then you are ready to teach children about prayer. Talk about your friendship. Then take it a step further and explain that Jesus calls us friends. Prayer is how we express that friendship. Encourage the children to respond to God as they would respond to a best friend. Remind them that, unlike a human friend, God will never be surprised or shocked by us. God is always available and is never inconvenienced. He welcomes us whenever we go to him. Children love the story of Jesus’ welcoming the little children—something he still does.
Now, if you can speak gladly about a dear friend, of course you can speak gladly about your dear God. In both cases your voice and your face will indicate spontaneously more than words ever can. Children will catch your ease and joy. As you are free to be yourself with God, the children will want that kind of relationship with him too.