What Parents (And Youth Leaders) Can Learn From a Six-Year-Old’s Prayer

Child praying at a bedsideA couple weeks ago, my family gathered for our nightly prayer. I have four kids, all under the age of twelve, and on this particular night, it was Faith’s (my six-year old) turn to lead.

Once everyone was still and squirming had hit a minimum, she began with the sign of the cross and said, “Jesus…You rock. Amen.”

In the seconds that followed, the catechist inside of me felt like a failure.

The Holy Spirit quickly returned me to my senses, however, and the soul of this father rejoiced. My little Faith was not “of little faith” — she had actually demonstrated something sorely lacking in many prayers — a true relationship!

What kind of prayer are we modeling for our young people? (Tweet this.)

Simple Is Holy

In our personal prayer, we’d be wise to remember that God doesn’t grade us on diction.

Words matter little if our intention is pure. Likewise, when leading prayer with our teens or Core Members (Catechists), it is vital to remember that less is often more. Simplicity is a direct route to sanctity.

The “Ben Stiller Method”

Remember that scene in “Meet the Parents”, when Robert De Niro puts Ben Stiller on the spot to lead grace at the family dinner table? Ben Stiller offers a flowery verbal mess, beginning with evocative imagery of cascading fountains and ending with a quote by the recently-heard muzak version of “Day by Day” (from the musical Godspell).

Real-life versions of that scene often play out in youth rooms and parish halls around the world.

I’ve seen them.

No, the scene might not end up as insane and far-fetched as Ben Stiller’s oration, but I’ve watched Youth Ministers and Core Team Members inadvertently do something very similar when they begin leading prayer with their teens. I’m embarrassed to admit that I even demonstrated it when I started in youth ministry. It wasn’t conscious, but it did happen.

Praying in Queen’s English

It’s as though when the sign of the cross ends, wires get crossed in the leader’s head.

Many times the catechist leading the prayer becomes an English orator from the 19th century. Diction becomes elongated, multi-syllable words are slowly and dramatically enunciated, and virtually every word within the Queen’s English is employed to ask God for the simplest of things. Leaders are more apt to “beseech the Sovereign God to sanctify us” than to “ask the Father to help us become more holy.”

If your prayer tongue is poetic and, even, flowery, that’s beautiful. Praise God for that gift, but praise Him with it at more opportune times. When up front, we’re not only leading prayer. We are modeling it.

How Did Jesus Pray?

Christ could have been far more ethereal in his speech, far more verbose, far more theologically high-minded when He gave us the Our Father.

But He was not.

Jesus was simple in His prayer. (Tweet this.)

He was succinct.

The depth and breadth of God’s majesty and mystery were communicated in simple verses of adoration and petition. The same should be true of our approach. Being a little more intentional about the simplicity with which we pray will not strip group prayer of its Spirit-led glory, it will enhance it. It will empower more Core Members and teens — some of whom might be shy about praying aloud because they’re afraid they lack the vocabulary or ability to lead.

The simpler, more practical and more direct you can keep your prayer when leading teens, the more powerful the times of silence, praise and worship, intercession and petition will ultimately become.

Teaching our young people to pray is not merely important — it must be primary.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Prayer is more important than oxygen. Think about it: if you stop breathing, you’ll see Jesus. If you stop praying, who knows who you’ll see? 😉

Don’t allow your youth group settings for prayer to be like the Classifieds…where you are paid per word.

Remember these simple truths:

  • Embrace moments of silence.
  • Empower others to pray aloud.
  • Introduce souls to differing forms of prayer and various times to do so.
  • Exemplify both what prayer is and what it is not.
  • God cares about the depth of our prayers more than the length.

It’s not about the words as much as it is about the posture of the heart uttering them.

Ask the Lord to simplify your heart and your prayer will follow. It’s great to pray, “Lord, I offer you praise and glory and thanksgiving for You are the Lord and there is no other.”

But don’t be afraid to look up to heaven, smile and pray, “Jesus…You rock. Amen.”

Mark Hart

Mark Hart serves as Executive Vice President for Life Teen International. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a twenty-year veteran of youth ministry, Mark is a best-selling and award-winning author (or co-author) of over a dozen books and one of the most sought-after speakers serving in the Catholic Church, today. Mark hosts his own weekly satellite radio show, “Fired Up!”, for The Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129 and is a Research Fellow for the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Additionally, his weekly audio podcast (Sunday, Sunday, Sunday) and HD video spots (Beyond Words) are helping youth groups, families and classrooms in over two dozen countries enter more deeply into the Sunday Mass readings. Mark’s humor and his passion for Scripture —as experienced in his DVD Bible Study Series, “T3” and “Encounter” — are helping hundreds of thousands of Catholics, young and old, begin to read and study the Bible in engaging and relevant ways. Mark and his wife, Melanie, and their children live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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  • You made me remember my grandfather, my greatest hero, who helped raise me. He was a farmer and raised beef cattle. When out working the farm, some of his expressions could be quite…well… frank, and my mother would regularly correct his grammar. He was also a faithful Christian, a Southern Baptist deacon, steeped in the language of the King James version of the Bible. When he said the blessing at meals, he would address God in that same language. I get what you’re saying and you’re right, but the lesson I took away from my grandfather’s prayers at table were that Pawpaw knew to Whom he was speaking. Still a loved memory

  • Maggie

    He is awesome

  • Maggie

    I just want to say I love marks talks and every thing

  • Avila

    Sometimes we can forget its not all about the tongue. Prayer is communicating with God and we can do that in so many different ways such as a piece of music, dance, in stillness and so much more. It is sad when we limit ourselves to flowery long prayers, one formula for praying, reject any prayer we are uncomfortable with (own words, prescriptive or just chatting to God) or worry about whether God knows what we mean.

    The most joyful sung prayer in our Church happened when a boy with Downs Syndrome got so carried away with singing Halleluiah that we had to go through it 3 times (and we all had big smiles on our faces throughout).

    • Elizabeth

      Having taught special needs children, I found myself smiling while reading this comment from you Avila.

  • Carmi Murray

    Simply say what is in your heart when you pray.