How We Share the Gospel So That Our Kids Will Listen
By: Holly Gustafson
Once upon a time there was a devout Catholic family with five sweet little children, none of whom had evening dance classes, or jazz band rehearsals, or back-to-back soccer practices. Every night before bedtime, the family would gather in the living room and read the Gospel together, and the children neither thought that this was lame, nor did they roll their eyes when told to remove their earbuds. After prayer time, the five sweet little children would then head off to bed, after which the parents would actually have a few waking moments together alone when they weren’t driving kids in a million different directions or telling teenagers to remember to turn off the light in the kitchen before they go to bed and please be quiet because some of us are actually trying to get some sleep. Those were the days…
I look back pretty fondly at those times when life seemed simpler (or at least our calendar was a little less packed, and the kids were a little more enthusiastic about family prayer time.) It wasn’t always easy; the three youngest kids quarrelled over which two of them would get to sit beside me during prayer time so often, that we finally solved it by letting one of them sit on my shoulders every night. And now that most of our children are teenagers, with their own little lives and attitudes, sharing the Gospel as a family looks a lot different than it used to in the good old days. Here’s how we did what we did back then, and how we do what we do now.
Set the Stage
We’ve always made family prayer time the cosiest time of the day. We meet in the living room, but you could pray anywhere your family likes to gather, like one of the children’s beds, or even the kitchen table. I set the scene by having a big basket of blankets and shawls for everyone to wrap themselves in as we pray, and always light a candle, although the kids have fought so often about who gets to blow out the candle every night, that I’d recommend lighting a candle for each child! As they’ve grown older, my children have adopted the habit of making themselves a big bowl of cereal before heading into the living room for prayer time, and I, just grateful for their presence, haven’t stopped them. If you’re not opposed to it, putting out a bedtime snack like yogurt or cut up fruit is a great way to lure your children to join you for family prayer!
Choose a Narrative
You could read the Gospel straight from the Bible, but I’ve always found that my children were most engaged when we read from a story Bible with a more narrative style. We had a basket of Bibles on hand so that everyone could follow along at their own level: the older kids could read from the Good News Bible, while the younger ones followed along with their picture Bibles. The littlest got a board book Bible that might not have had all the same stories, but at least let them feel like they were reading along with us!
Keep it Simple
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of things to keep my children engaged in family prayer. We’ve watched all the videos, made all the crafts, stuck all the stickers, and said all the fancy prayers. In the end, simplicity has always won out over the lengthy activities and new ideas; the shorter and simpler the time we spent together in prayer, the sweeter it was, and the less chance we had to break down into absolute chaos. What worked best for us was this simple formula: light the candle, read one Gospel story, blow out the candle, and send the kids off to bed. Sometimes the kids would ask for another story, and sometimes they would have something to say about the Scripture that we read, but we didn’t worry too much about instilling a message or lesson in our children during the very last moments of the day. For us, reading the Gospel as a family was simply building the habit of inviting Jesus into our home on a daily basis, to spend a few quiet minutes with Him together as a family.
Lower Your Expectations
“Don’t let the ideal be the enemy of the good,” said Voltaire, and for us Catholic parents, that means not letting the burden of producing the perfect family prayer time keep us from trying, even if it ends up looking less than ideal. For a while, I fell victim to this, thinking that if I can’t get my entire family together attentively praying at the end of the night, why even bother? The fact is, reading the Gospel as a family doesn’t look like it used to in our house. My older teenagers have to study or go to practice or work, and are often not even home when the rest of us are gathering for prayer. Nobody’s fighting over who gets to sit beside Mommy anymore (although they’re still not old enough to stop bickering about who gets to blow out the candle). And to be honest, they’re simply not as enthusiastic as they once were, when they would snuggle up next to me in their jammies, hair still wet from the bath, eager to hear a new Gospel story.
The other night, I’d invited all five of my children to family prayer at the end of the evening… and only one (the youngest) showed up. There she was, sitting in the living room, in her pyjamas, with her little bowl of cereal just as she’d seen her older siblings do, ready to hear the Gospel. And so we read it, just the two of us. It wasn’t the perfect family prayer time that I had envisioned. It certainly wasn’t the ideal. But it was so good.
Holly Gustafson lives with her husband, James, and their five children, in Regina, where they attend Christ the King Parish. Holly received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba, and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, "Always ask Love. It advises best."
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