Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
We have four kids now. That idea is still settling in for us. They are 6, 4, 2, and old enough only to be prayed with in mom and dad’s arms. We started praying with them very early, just basic prayers, and we were the ones saying most of the prayers. As they’ve grown, so has their memory. For the last while, they can recite entire decades and intercessory prayers. Though I trust they are learning to pray privately, we do all of this as a family.
At a minimum, each night its: Sign of the Cross, ten (or more) Hail Marys, a Glory Be, the Fatima prayer, the child’s bedtime prayer, and an intercessory litany for all family, religious in our lives, and friends.
This prayer time is the routine, and lately, we realize they’re doing well with the memorized prayer that we’ve started to teach them silence and personal prayers. They didn’t entirely understand it at first — really, it took a bit of intentional patience — but after some time they’ve said some of the sweetest and hilarious prayers—things we never imagined they’d say.
“Jesus, I really want to do good in school. Help me to catch a Pokemon tomorrow.” — Gabriel, 6
“God, help our family. We need the bread of life. Thank you for the pasta tonight.” — Tristan, 4
“God, I really want to be a priest. Help me learn my catechism.” — Also Gabriel, 6
We even include our two-year-old.
“Jesuth, thanks. Help me. Amen.” — Dominic, 2
To teach them, we all have a short quiet time. Maybe thirty seconds of silence. Then my wife and I have our out-loud personal prayer. We ensure we hit topics they can grasp, use words they understand, and parts of the day so they know we’re paying attention and bringing everything we have to God, our joys, thanks, and petitions. This makes it abundantly easier for them to follow us with relevant prayers of their own forming.
And today, I got them all a prayer journal. A prayer journal is a proven means of chronicling our growth with and in the Lord. There are few better ways to aid us in our faith, hope, and seeking of his will. However, I also acknowledge that some of this was entirely self-serving. My wife and I have a hoot laughing about the things they say, or we look at each other with those eyes you have when you see a baby pig—we want to remember these sweet and absurd prayers forever.
So, I did it. I got an excellent leather-bound journal and put a personal note in the front:
You have already spoken so many sweet and fervent prayers already that I believed it was time to give you this prayer journal. Your catechism training has already taught you that heaven requires three things: to know God, to love God, and to serve God.
Knowing God means knowing who he says he is, what he says about you, and who he has revealed himself to be through his Son, Jesus. Study, reading, and prayer will help you know God better—and the knowing never stops growing.
Loving God is better. Some don’t know everything about God but love him more than people who have studied for years. To love God, obey him, obey your parents, seek holiness, and seek him every day.
Serving God accomplishes and fulfills both knowing and loving him, in a way. You have to know and believe in what you serve and have to know what he wants, and serving God is the act of loving him. To serve God, serve others, tell others about God, and help the poor. Then, ask God what he wants you to do with your life.
I love you very much.
I hope we have many laughs and many tender moments to record, to look back to, and to reflect on together. Try this with your child, and see how rapidly they will grow in knowing, loving, and serving God.