There is an old saying that the family that prays together stays together. Prayer certainly has great power to bring families closer together and it also has the power to teach children many great and important truths.
Imagine for a moment that a child who is kneeling with his family in prayer hears his mother telling Heavenly Father about a trial the family is facing. He then listens as she asks God to give them courage to face the trial and the wisdom to make the proper choices. Finally, he hears her express her faith in God’s presence and love as they go through the trial, and her sure knowledge that God will help them.
What lessons has the child learned from this prayer? He learns that his mother has faith in God. She trusts God to help them. He also learns that she plans to make her decisions for handling the trial by listening to God’s advice. He discovers she is not afraid because she isn’t handling the trial alone. All of these lessons go directly into a child’s heart. Without a parental sermon, the child has received an eternally significant lesson in the power of prayer and in God’s love and guidance. He will be able to draw on these critical lessons when he faces his own trials. Later, the mother can explain that in her private prayers, and in the prayers she and the child’s father have together, they will ask God for guidance and remain on their knees, waiting for an answer. This opens up opportunity for the child to ask how they will know what the answer is, and for the parents to share their testimony that God always answers prayers.
Imagine children listening as their father says the family prayer. They hear their father express his love for his children and for his wife. As he tells God the good things his wife brings to the family, the children learn to respect their mother and her role. When the son grows up, he will search for such a wife, and he will treat his own wife with the love and respect he learns as he listens to his father pray. The daughter will learn what a good wife and mother is and will also seek out a man who respects her as much as her father respects her mother. While they must also see this love and respect in action each day, the prayer puts into words what they may have seen, but not paid attention to or understood.
When parents pray, children can hear and feel their parents’ testimonies of the Savior and learn what parts of the gospel and of their lives their parents cherish and honor. These lessons stay in their heart because they come at a time when the children are feeling the spirit and prepared for eternal truths. These lessons are more effective than mere lectures from parents, which may seem contrived and “good for you.” Prayer is the heart’s conversation with God, and so it is a powerful way to teach the gospel to children.
Terrie Lynn Bittner is the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that have appeared in LDS magazines. She is married to Lincoln Bittner and is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to two girls. Terrie became a Mormon at the age of seventeen and has been sharing her faith online since 1992. She can also be found blogging about being an LDS woman at LatterdaySaintWoman.com.