Have you ever asked kids why they pray? We spend a lot of time teaching children to say their prayers, teaching them about different ways to pray, and even spend time teaching them to write their own prayers, but we don’t often talk that much about why we pray.
In class this week we began by reading 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Someone asked what “pray without ceasing” meant, so we talked about the different ways we can pray throughout our day. The textbook explained that spending time with God in prayer strengthens our friendship with him, just as spending time with our friends helps us grow in our friendship with them. I had not thought of prayer in this way, and several of the children seemed to appreciate the idea that we grow in friendship with God when we pray.
The textbook suggested that I ask the kids why they pray. I didn’t think this was an important question at first, and I almost didn’t ask the class. During a lull, I decided to ask them anyway. What would they say to a friend who wanted to know why they prayed? I held my breath, expecting someone to say “because my parents tell me to.” Thankfully, no one gave that answer.
At first students offered typical responses: to help others get better, to ask God for help or for something, and to thank God for their blessings. As the discussion continued, a student said God comforts her when she prays; a boy said God gives him strength to do what is right. A student who usually remains quiet spoke up and said she prays to tell God she loves him.
Another girl told the class that praying with others is a way she can share God’s message as we are told to do in the Bible. I remained silent for a good 30 seconds, because this was such a deep answer for a nine-year-old. When I finally found my voice, I used her answer to point out that praying can also bring people together as a community, just like when we pray together at Mass.
A girl then shared that at a recent Mass, which was on the anniversary of her mother’s death, everyone prayed for her mother. She didn’t have to tell the class what this meant to her family—we could see it on her face.
The conversation continued as more of the kids wanted to share their thoughts on the question, and I fell in love with their answers and thoughtfulness. Listening to them made me ask myself that same question: Why do I pray? Is it out of obligation, to ask for something, or because I love spending time developing my friendship with God?
It’s a good question for students, but it is also a great question for us to ask ourselves.
Why do you pray?