We say it every week in church, and it’s the prayer that most unifies Christians of every denomination. For children, though, the Our Father can be one long line of seldom-used and difficult to understand words and phrases. Helping kids to break down the prayer into smaller, more understandable bits at home will give them a better sense of its meaning. Using parts of the prayer in your family’s day-to-day life will make it come alive when kids recite it in church.
Our Father, who art in heaven: While we’re used to the metaphor of God as Father, Jesus added a new twist to this Old Testament image. Jesus used the word “Abba,” which scholars say is closer to Papa or Daddy than it is to the more formal “Father.” Children have a natural tendency to imagine God as a far-off ruler. During a joyful moment of celebrating with your child, point out to her that as much as you love her, God’s love is even deeper.
Hallowed be thy name: While the second commandment reminds us not to take God’s name in vain, the very first line of the Our Father tells us why. God’s name is holy—and teaching kids not to say “Oh my God!” when they’re excited, or “Jesus Christ!” when they’re mad can help them see God’s name as a go-to for prayer, but not to be abused. Watch your own language to make sure you’re not modeling how to dismiss “Hallowed be thy name.” My husband started saying “Blasphemy!” in the same circumstances he might otherwise take God’s name in vain (fixing the leaking pipe under the sink, finding a nest of hornets in the garage). It has become a good word to use in anger. Something about the “s” sound in the middle and the three syllables is really satisfying.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: Kids need to understand that God’s kingdom has not yet come—it’s still on the way. When they question why there is war or poverty, it’s an opportunity for them to learn that God’s will is not always carried out. On the other hand, when you see people acting in an extraordinary way—volunteering to give out food after a hurricane, for example—it’s an opportunity to point out to children that some people do choose to help build God’s kingdom on earth. Kids can understand that when people act with love toward others, that is God’s will being done.
Give us this day our daily bread: This is perhaps the easiest line in the prayer for adults and kids alike. We all understand we need food to survive. What this line highlights, though, is that we need only ask God for the basics. Jesus doesn’t advocate asking “Give us this day a bigger house,” or “Give us this day more money.” This line contrasts sharply with what children are taught through ads—to ask for more, to remain unsatisfied. The line can be one we return to when discussion of the “need” for a new cell phone seems to have gotten out of hand.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us: In the same sentence in which we ask God for food, we also ask God to forgive us. If we can teach our children that the need for forgiveness is as basic as the need for food, we have given them a lifetime gift. Our children will learn either to forgive or to carry a grudge by watching what we do. Let your children see you and your spouse say you’re sorry after an argument. After you forgive your child for something, don’t revisit it the next week.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: Help children understand what temptation is by calling it when you see it. “I know when we leave you alone, you might be tempted to watch an ‘R’ movie on TV, so we’ve rented this other movie for you to watch tonight instead.” Kids are relieved to know that their parents are willing to help them manage temptation. Likewise, when a child succeeds in overcoming temptation, acknowledge that, as well. “I appreciate that you told me the truth. I know it was tempting to lie.” Using the words “tempt” or “temptation” in everyday life will bring that phrase to life when they pray it during church.
by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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