Practice: A Prayer Formula

It is sometimes well during prayer to say a few words of our own, breathing fervent faith and love to the Lord… Moreover, we grow too accustomed to the words of others and grow cold in prayer. And how pleasing to the Lord this lisping of our own is, coming directly from a believing, loving, and thankful heart. It is impossible to explain this: it is only needful to say that when you are praying to God with your own words the soul trembles with joy, it becomes wholly inflamed, vivified, and beatified…When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart than ten thousand words with your tongue only.

– St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

Finding a Prayer Rule that Works

In our home we continue to “tinker” with the best ways to say prayers together as a family. Of late I find myself often becoming frustrated – even to the point of yelling and resentment, God forgive me – during family prayer time. In the morning, my 3 year old mostly refuses to come to the prayer corner or really engage in prayers, my 7 year old often says the prayers in a silly voice or too quickly or then, after I correct, too slowly and my 5 year old, perhaps the best behaved, is often swinging the cupboard cabinets below our prayer corner open and shut, open and shut. In the evening, we have tried many different formats – my reading all the prayers or chanting them as they lie in bed, all of us standing by the hallway prayer shelf together, making a small prayer corner in their room with “lighted” LED candles (after the real candles badly burned an icon of St. John the Baptist!). But the format that seems best is with the kids in their beds (the 3 share a room) and each saying their parts of a modified prayer rule. See end of post for our current prayer rule.

Understanding Our Goals for Family Prayer Time

My hope for prayer time might be summarized with three basic principles:

I want my children to:

  1. Have a rhythm and routine of prayer that is consistent
  2. Participate in the prayers and memorize new prayers so that they have an internal supply of prayers
  3. Learn to know prayers as not just recitation but as speaking with God

How Do We Speak to God?

This last point is the one I wanted to underscore in this blog post. How can we help our children start with personal prayer? I do believe we Orthodox are experts in the use of the prayers of the church fathers and this gives us wise and discerning language to use to speak with our heavenly Father. However, in my upbringing in Orthodoxy my own personal prayer was never really taught. When my children were born and time for formal prayer felt difficult I began to seek informal prayer in the quiet and in between moments. Speaking with God from my heart, at first, seemed strange. I felt unsure of what words to use, what to say. It took patience and faith and practice. So teaching personal prayer to my children has felt like a need.

In an effort to create some structure for them I created a sort of “fill in the blank” prayer that they have been using for the past few months:

“Dear Lord, thank you for ________________. Please help me to ________________.”

We focus on giving thanks for daily tangible things as well as bigger concepts and the asking is meant as a form of self-correction – help me to be more patient, share more, pay more attention to prayers. But it also became a form of “help my foot get better”, “help us to do well in soccer today” etc. And I worried that I was missing the repentance/noticing of wrong doings that is so needful for all of us and best started from the youngest ages.

Using Ancient Wisdom 

In the book that my dear friend Sarah and I recently published with Ancient Faith, A Sacred Beginning, we used the time honored classic of St. John’s Ladder of Divine Assent to provide a spiritual scaffolding to our daily reflections. In it St. John provides a sort of prayer formula for when we speak with God that I found incredibly useful and that we share in the book. He writes:

“Before all else, let us list sincere thanksgiving first on the scroll of our prayer. On the second line we should put confession and heartfelt contrition of soul. Then let us present our petition for the King of all.”

In essence he gives three steps:

  1. Giving thanks
  2. Confession
  3. Petition

The first and last components were already a part of our little prayer formula – but to it can be added the confession. So our new and modified formula that we will be trying out is:

“Dear Lord, thank you for ____________________. Please forgive me for _______________. Please help me/us _________________________.”

I would argue that intercession for others is missing here and is an important part of prayer that future versions may need to include or can be included in other ways into your prayer as a family.

A Relationship with Our Heavenly Father

I will end by saying that I really have noticed a tremendous difference in my children’s connection with this form of prayer. There is a sense of real connection and the start of personal relationship with God that has felt missing in our prior versions (What do you want to say thank you to God for? Who do you want to say a special prayer for? What did you do to make God sad today?). St. John’s formula is for us as well and we do well to consider it when we begin to petition God – practicing thanksgiving and repentance at the same time.

Lord, thank you for the amazing gift of these children – that teach me humility, patience and mercy and to love and be loved. Please forgive the many ways in which I do not model for them these above virtues and the moments when I become angry towards them and unforgiving. Please help me work to transmit the beauty, comfort, peace and wholeness that a living and burning faith in You can provide to my children and to continue to grow in my faith and love of You alongside them. 

With love in Christ,


  • Our current family prayer rule (with prayer versions from this Children’s Prayer Book and this adult prayer book:
    • Trisagion Prayers (together or just me/dad)
    • Lord’s Prayer (me and my 3 year old)
    • The Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos (To Thee the Champion Leader…) (my 5 year old daughter sings)*
    • O Lord our God, as Thou art good and the lover of mankind… (me)
    • My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit… (my 5 and or 7 year old, they fight over who gets to say this one)
    • Remit pardon forgive… and Into Thine hands (closing)… (my 7 year old)

About Sasha Rose Oxnard

Sasha Rose is an Orthodox Christian and a mom. She also happens to be a family doctor, a wife, friend, daughter, amateur gardener, lover of music, dance, art, animals, nature and all things playful. Now adding blogger and writer to the list. She currently lives, works and prays in New England with her husband, four small children, dog, 2 cats and 5 chickens.

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