Catholic Activity: Play and Prayer
Teach children to pray constantly, by offering either their greatest joys or their deepest sorrows to God.
Living in a fallen world, our children are bound to be hurt, both physically and spiritually. We will save them years of wasted opportunities if we teach them that, along with everything else, pain is part of their prayer.
Play is prayer, too, although we all seem to think God wants only the whiny gifts and none of the shiny ones. If a Queen is crowned and people dance in the streets, the Queen says she is honored. But we have the idea that play, if it has any relation to God at all, is at best "time out" from serving Him with daily prayers and duties. We have borrowed from St. Paul for our Grace Before Meals, to help remind the children that the joys in life are prayers too.
"Whether we eat or sleep, whether we work or play, may it all be for the honor and glory of God." Many times a day a mother may remind her children to offer their play as part of their prayer. Trips into the house for drinks of water, mittens, coats on, coats off, all are opportunities to be reminded. "Having fun?" It's what all mothers say. They can add, "Be sure to offer your fun to God, because He loves being prayed to with fun." It will help plant deep in their hearts the instinct for holy fun, for sensing that amusement that is not wholesome cannot be offered, and is therefore not fitting play if it does not make fitting prayer.
Last of all, we can teach our children to practice mental prayer. Understood too little, mental prayer is simply "lifting the heart and the mind to God." And for children with an understanding that prayer is talking to God, it is no more difficult than daydreaming.
We have a kind of game to play at night which is really mental prayer, but which the children call, "What shall I think about before I go to sleep?"
"Why don't you pretend you are walking down a street in Nazareth, and you come to a little house with a blue door. You knock at the door and when it opens, there is the most beautiful lady in the world. Blessed Mother! And she says: 'Why, Jamie! I was just thinking of you. Do come in and have a glass of milk and some cookies and we'll have a good talk. Tell me all about your day. All the things that bothered you, and all the things that were fun. And afterwards, you may go out to the carpenter shop in the back. Jesus and Joseph are out there making me a birthday present, but they won't tell me what it is. Maybe they will tell you, and let you help. And then you can go to the well with Jesus and get the water, and help Him milk the goat, and pick the peas for supper."
From there on they manage by themselves (I only know because they tell me). Sometimes they go up into the hills with Jesus to explore, or sometimes they take their lunch in little packsacks and eat it by a brook. Sometimes they discover that it is a boat He is making for His Mother and they take it to the brook to see if it will sail. Sometimes they stay in the shop and Joseph helps them make a jalopy. And sometimes, best thing of all, they build a tree house, and Blessed Mother makes sandwiches and they scramble into the tree and eat them roosting high in the sky with the Lord of the world.
Jesus is just their age, and likes to do just the things they like to do, and with help and suggestions and encouragement every night, He can become "really and truly my very best friend." To wander the last corridor to sleep with all the persons of the fairy tales, with Little Black Sambo and Thumbelina and Peter Pan is fun, but at best only entertainment; but to walk the streets of His town, sit with His mother, work with His stepfather, to talk and eat and play with the boy Christ — this is fun that fans their love, is rich in grace, and teaches them a habit that is real and serious mental prayer.
There is nothing good the day can hold that cannot be prayer. Helping children to pray, not only with their lips and their hearts, but with their work and play and hurts and dreaming — everything in their lives — this is teaching them to "pray always."
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961