Written by Terry Rumore
The following was originally published in Sword&Spade Magazine and is available for download.
“Lead your family in prayer.”
From recent experience I can tell you these five simple words have the power to turn a father’s world upside down.
This challenge was put forth to a group of Fraternus men last year. Since we often hear that the father is the spiritual leader in the home, one might think this would be one of the easier requirements (fasting and penances were required too) but from the quizzical facial expressions to the squirming in the seats, one might have thought those men had been asked to sacrifice their firstborn. “How do I do that?” “What does that look like?” and “How can I convince my family to follow me?” circulated. This was getting to the heart of a very deeply rooted problem. Perhaps many of you husbands reading this article shifted in your seat a little, too.
Upon further discussion and reflection, I think we can note a few reasons this challenge was met with such hesitation, even among that group of spiritually mature men, and what it tells us about fatherly leadership in the home.
To engage in family prayer requires vulnerability.
Men often view communal prayer as women’s work; faithful elderly ladies propping up the church with their rosaries, dog-eared bibles, and well worn prayer books. Men are not sup- posed to outwardly show dependence on a Heavenly Father, publicly demonstrate a need for forgiveness, or ask for council and direction. We’re the ones running the fish fry, ushering at Mass, and volunteering at various charities. Let the women pray; let the men do. Yet, prayer is for those who depend on God in faith, hope, and love. If we fail to pray it is because we depend on ourselves in pride, selfishness, and vanity. We need God, and without Him we are both damned and ultimately empty. We can coordinate and work a thousand events for the Church and miss the truth of faith the whole time. We need to pray not because it is vaguely fulfilling or “just what you do,” but because in the truest sense of the words, we need it. God has no need for our prayer in Himself. It doesn’t add to What and Who He is. We need God. Without Him something is missing from us. We need prayer.
And we fathers also need to pray publicly. These public actions show our family how to pray; it tells them that we, who often are the authority on many matters, submit our own lives to Someone above us. In fact, leading our family in prayer is one of the fundamental responsibilities of fatherhood. Jesus Christ taught us how to pray, giving us the Our Father as the perfect example of prayer. Note the dependency on God the Our Father brings out: “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread” (declare dependence on a Heavenly Father) “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (publicly demonstrate a need for forgiveness) “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (ask for council and direction).
Prayer requires a father to actually set time aside for prayer.
This also demands that he direct and lead others in setting their time aside as well. In a home where everyone lives together but does little together, this is no easy task. It’s a cultural shift. Simply put, leading requires work. When everyone is going in different directions, where the simple activity of eating a meal together rarely occurs, and where spare time is absorbed in some de- vice, the family unit suffers greatly. Prayer forces reunification in the home.
A father’s work is cultivated in the home, doing the difficult things like creating order, discipline, and structure. A father’s work demands that we engage in family life, not just be casual observers. Scripture says “Would one of you hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf or a poisonous snake when he asks for a fish?” (Matthew 7:9-10). When we do not interact and lead our homes, we are allowing some- one or something else to guide our families, perhaps giving our loved ones stones to eat or serpents to play with.
We fathers are being challenged right now to lead—if we don’t lead, we are giving our family up to the world. And we have to start with reclaiming the practice of praying as a family. Put down your video game controllers, turn off your smartphones, stop obsessing about sports, kill the porn, and stop abdicating your rights to lead. Let me restate this more positively.
To begin, we may need to make ourselves present before taking up the cause of prayer. Lift your head up and see your beautiful wife. Fall in love again. Interact with your children. Play games with them. Eat meals together as a family, and talk about your day. Share stories of your youth, and laugh out loud about your past. Then, and only then, when you’ve earned their trust back—when you’ve earned the right to be heard and demonstrated your vulnerabilities—then you can ask them to follow you in daily prayer. At that moment, leading your family in prayer won’t seem so daunting, so foreign; it will be the next logical step in this thing called fatherhood.
Set a regular time each evening and stick to it. Maybe these faithful elderly ladies are on to something! If you stick to the plan, gradually your family order will begin to change and your place in the home will become clearer, not because you are doing something right, but because God has been invited in that He may, as we pray at Mass, “order our days in peace.”
So what happened to this group of men, myself included? We challenged each other, held ourselves accountable to each other, and loved each other. Night after night, we became increasingly aware of our fatherly role to lead in prayer. Our families began to trust us, listen to us, and follow us in prayer. Yes, sometimes we fail. Life gets in the way, and we slip into bad habits. But by grace we can persevere, and our families are better for it. &