If you’ve worked with teenagers or spent any significant time with them at all, then you know that teens do pray. You also know that their prayer is genuine and from the heart. You have likely witnessed all the main forms of prayer done well and done spontaneously by teens. Consider the examples that follow:
Petition. It was one of those big rivalry games, the local public school versus the Catholic school on Friday night football. When a player from the public school team was felled by an injury that first appeared serious, the players on the sidelines from the Catholic school team suddenly dropped to their knees in prayer. What a witness to the friends and neighbors on the other side of the field.Teens do pray. A task for teachers and catechists is to help teens name what they already are doing as prayer. Another is to provide opportunities for teens to feel comfortable praying together. A third is to encourage teens to increase the time they spend alone with God in prayer.
Intercession. A teen preparing for Confirmation was asked if she ever prayed: “Yes, I do,” she said. “I also talk to my grandmother a lot. She died last year.”
Praise. If you’ve been to a youth rally, diocesan youth day, or some school Masses, you’ve likely experienced loud music, singing, swaying, and praying.
Thanksgiving. The passenger van a youth minister was driving broke down outside of Tijuana, Mexico on the way back home to L.A. after visiting some children at an orphanage. The youth minister walked with another teen north to the city to get some help. When they returned, an adult co-worker and the rest of the teens were praying the rosary. When the youth minister got inside the van, one boy, said, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Adoration. Ask a teen, “Where do you find God?” and a great many will tell you: “I find God in nature.” Or, “I find God in creation.”
Blessing. This is the movement of Christian prayer. We bless God for having blessed us. You have probably been awed by the way the teens bless each other, hugging their friends on greeting or departing. In this way they truly bless the God who is present in all.
Let’s look at the third task—probably the most difficult one—first. While true that prayer can happen anywhere—in the car, while exercising, before a stressful test—teens (adults and children, too) should be encouraged to spend some definite, planned time each day with the Lord. When? Suggest a time right before bed. Homework and phone calls to friends are over for the night. Where? The privacy of one’s own room is the best place. But also advise teens to set up a prayer space in their rooms other than their beds:
• a comfortable chair with a night standLike any person who goes full throttle during the day, a head resting on a cushiony pillow late at night will induce instant second stage sleep. So, prayer first, then bed.
• an exercise mat
• a corner table with a bible and candle.
• Review your day. Take some time to find ways that God came to you during the day.Ask the teens you teach to share some other ways they can incorporate prayer into their lives. Helping teens to name what they are already doing as prayer is a rather subtle skill that can escape even the most seasoned teacher or catechist. There are several occasions that are harder to recognize than football players on their needs or van-filled teenagers saying Hail Mary’s. One teenage girl shared with her class that she never prayed. She said her prayers had never been answered. This was the same girl whose family was a foster family to two infant sisters, born to a mother addicted to crack. This girl spent many nights rocking those two little babies to sleep. Aren’t experiences like that what prayer is about too?
• Read a short passage from scripture. St. Augustine once randomly opened the Bible to find how God was speaking to him. This method may work for teens. However, encourage them to also read the pages before and after to get some more sense of how God is speaking to them.
• Play a favorite song. What is some good news they hear in the lyrics?
• Sit in the absolute silence of your room. Then notice the sounds emanating from the rest of your house (dad’s snoring, brother’s keyboard, mom in the kitchen). Praise God for your family.
• Talk to Jesus. Use real words as do in conversations with friends. Then quiet yourself and listen for an answer.
• Pray some favorite rote prayers from our Catholic faith. Really pay attention to the words.