By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
As I was growing up with my family, we didn’t always gather together to pray every morning or night. Some of us would prefer not to wake early, or some wouldn’t be home when it was time for night prayers. Regardless of whether anyone was there or not, my mother would always say her vocal prayers when she woke up in the morning and before she went to bed. She invited us to join her, but she never forced us. If we were around her room, we could surely hear her voice as she prayed. She wasn’t shouting or yelling, but you could clearly hear her gentle soft voice communicating with the Almighty.
Because I often listened to my mother pray, I came to know the words she frequently used. I memorized them. She thanked God for her business, she thanked him for her family. She asked for blessings and protection for her children. She prayed that God would chain Satan, surround him with iron bars, and destroy him in the hottest desert. She prayed for world peace, and she prayed for the intentions of others. Just as children grow up and learn the Our Father and the Hail Mary, I also came to memorize my mother’s words and her pattern of prayer.
As a teenager, and even into young adulthood, I found myself struggling to pray morning and night. But I kept trying. Even when I sometimes failed, I still tried again another day. Remarkably, I found myself, sometimes unconsciously, using some of my mother’s words while praying. As I grow to maturity in my faith, I have come to realize the strong influence of my mother’s prayer life on me. Now, even as a priest, I still cannot depart from some of those words I heard many years ago when I listened to my mother pray. Today as a priest I can comfortably say that my first seminary was in my mother’s room, and my first spiritual formation director was my mother. I’m not exactly like my mom though: I don’t pray out loud, and I don’t use all her words because I have undergone personal growth in my faith. But there is no doubt that she planted the seeds of my prayer life, because her words still resonate with me as I pray today.
I don’t believe my mother knew that she was impacting a soul as she prayed. She was only praying. At her prime she was a very busy woman, but she still made time to pray consistently morning and night. She was not perfect, not an angel. But her imperfections didn’t stand in the way of communicating with God, and through her prayer an indelible mark was transferred to some of us. I personally learned how to pray through her.
Parents (especially those raising young children), your children need to see you pray, and they need to hear you pray. You may not be the holiest person, but you can make an impact in the lives of your children by practicing a spiritual exercise they can learn from. Since children have a tendency to grow up imitating the behaviors of their parents, nothing is better than having them imitate your prayer life. They may not be exactly like you, but they may develop their spirituality through you. This is positive modeling.
In today’s busy world, this modeling may be particularly difficult for parents raising young children. But this is even more important for you now, because if you don’t impact your children with a positive sense of prayer now, you may not be able to do it when they’re grown. Find some time within your busy schedule to pray. Make some sacrifices and adjust your personal schedule to create time for prayer. You don’t have to pray for a long time. Whatever seconds or minutes you can set aside to pray, just use that time. But always be sure that your children see or hear you pray. Let them grow to know that prayer is important because they saw their parents pray. As parents, you are the first spiritual teachers of your children. They may go to catechism classes or attend faith formation sessions, but if the home does not provide a space to learn and practice the faith, your children may only be sacramental recipients without spiritual formation.
People who look up to us for guidance, spiritual or physical, need to see us do something that they will learn from, something that will make them believe that it’s worth doing because they see us do it as their models. When we let others into our prayer lives genuinely, we grant them access and invitation to join us in our noble relationship with God. Jesus’ disciples learned how to pray through him. He took some of them (Peter, James and John) along to experience some of his personal revelations (the Transfiguration, Mt. 17:1; raising Jairus’ daughter, Mk. 5:37; the Agony in the Garden, Mk. 14:33.). He invited them to join him and to live the experience. We all have a spiritual duty towards people who look up to us.
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano.