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What My Dad Taught Me About Prayer

Watching his two sons prepare for fatherhood, this dad reflects on some prayer traditions he learned as a boy.

Father and son
Credit: Getty Images
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As my two sons prepare to enter into that wonderful phase of life called fatherhood, I reflect on what I learned from my father. What fills my head and heart is a life of prayer, something we four kids witnessed. Here’s what I learned from Dad about prayer: 

Anything goes. Dad said grace every night at dinner, long extemporaneous prayers, full of whatever was going on in his head or the news he’d heard on the radio as he drove home from work. Is there anything we shouldn’t pray about? No. God knows the secrets of our heart. Why not share it with the Lord? Anything and everything.

When our boys were young, they’d take turns saying grace at dinner. They were good models for us. Because indeed we heard—and learned—what was going in on their lives. A laundry list of requests? Not for a parent. Heavenly or otherwise.

 Rick's dad at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles
   Rick’s dad at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles

Pray with your loved ones. As a kid, when I couldn’t fall asleep at night, I’d amble into Mom and Dad’s room, groggy-eyed and tired. Dad would walk me back to bed—no remonstrating—and tuck me in. Then he’d pray me to sleep. 

Quietly he’d talk to me, putting my body to rest. “Now you can feel your feet getting tired, and your legs, your arms too…” From my toes to the crown of my head. Even today, when I can’t fall asleep, I’ll picture Dad there, talking me to sleep, his hand on my back. 

Sing a prayer. Dad wasn’t much of a singer, but it never stopped him from singing, especially in church. As I used to joke, “He had a few good notes…and sometimes they were the right ones.” I still feel his joy when I sing.

For our own two boys, we’d sing a lullaby every night. “Tender shepherd, tender shepherd…” A round. We would all sing together until we reached those final lyrics, “Fast asleep, fast asleep.”

Living together in a family requires harmony. Not everyone has the same range or the same notes. But when you put the voices together, they merge into tuneful melody.

Let your children hear you pray for them. How powerful it is for a child to hear a parent pray for them. To know they are loved. To know their concerns count. We’d hear Dad pray for whatever was concerning us, whether it was a big test in the morning or a game we were playing or a treehouse we were building. He was on it. We could grasp God’s love because we experienced our earthly father’s love in his prayers.

Pray for others. Dad’s dinnertime graces always ended with “Bless this food to our use and the hands that prepared it.” Mom. That would be Mom’s hands. Truth to tell, she wasn’t a great cook—sorry, Mom—but she was a great mom. And maybe it was because those hands were blessed night after night.

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