Friday, January 10, 2014

Pray Tell - How to help our children (and ourselves) learn to daven

It's quite ironic that much of what I'm about to write was thought of while I was davening, or supposed to be, at least.

If the Greek gods had really wanted to punish Sisyphus, they should have put him in charge of davening in a middle school or high school minyan. 

I have attended and worked at a number of different types of schools, and without exception, I have never felt that davening was part of an educational experience. A rebbe can tell his talmidim when to stand, when to bow and what to say. A morah can make sure that her class has fluency in the words. Those things are just the technical parts of prayer. Davening is in fact “Avodah She'balev” (service of the heart).

Why are school minyanim so ineffective?

As I suggested in my post on middos, tefillah is not learned at school from teachers, although they can reinforce what has been learned, both good and bad. Parents teach their children how to pray and about prayer, both at home and in shul. Davening at school almost always involves some kids who don't want to daven, out of boredom, anger, lack of connection, or just a simple desire to talk, study or veg out. Efforts by teachers to quiet them and to get them to daven, look inside the siddur, or at least stand and sit at the right times, are often ignored. Some kids even enjoy the experience of getting the teacher frustrated.

Why is davening hard in general?

I'll admit it. I stink at davening. I am fairly careful to attend minyan three times a day, and I say the words, and know what most of them mean, but most of the time my head and heart are not in it. I think about family, work, or what to write about davening, on my blog.

Davening is hard for me because-

  • It's repetitive. While I know I can add my own words, most of davening involves saying the same words.
  • I'm busy, stressed, happy, distracted, bored, tired, hungry etc.
  • Even though I've learned quite a bit about the various philosophical approaches to how it works, I have no clue how it works.
  • I still have the childish view that davening is about getting stuff.

Students have all of those challenges, as well as others such as-

  • They have no clue what many/most of the words mean.
  • Many can not think of things they are lacking.
  • They are still figuring out what they believe.
  • They might come from homes where davening is not taken seriously.

Which brings us to the parents role in their children's chinuch. Kids watch EVERYTHING we do. No matter how I may justify it to myself and God why I am frequently late for shul, I am, in fact, frequently late for shul. On the other hand, I am almost never late to work or a baseball game. There's a message there. I do daf yomi during davening. It's better than talking, or reading a newspaper, but it still sends a message.

I've often wondered about something I've witnessed many times. After many shiurim which are delivered at night, there is a minyan for maariv after the shiur. Almost without exception, the men stay in and pray. Almost without exception, the woman go out to the hallway and talk. Even if you want to suggest that they are not obligated to pray maariv, what message is sent when someone chooses talking over davening?

As Rav Wolbe has pointed out, we teach our children to daven, by how we daven. Conversely, when we “shush” them or say “nu”, or point inside their siddur, we ensure that they will do the same to our grandchildren.

There's more, and here's why I write this today, by parashas B'Shalach, where tefillah plays a role in the story. My wife and I try to involve our children in thoughtful discussions at the Shabbos table. We have no interest in hearing divrei Torah written or printed by their teachers. We want to hear from our children and what they think. My plan for this evening is to talk about tefillah. Ask them how it works, why we have to say words when God knows our thoughts, why we say the same words everyday etc. As always, I don't know where the conversation will go, but I do know one thing. My kids will see that davening matters to us. That davening is hard. That learning to daven is a process. If this doesn't work for you, let your kids see you learn about davening (the inner part, not just halacha). Open up the Avudraham, or an Artscroll book on beiur tefillah. Use an interlinear siddur, or talk to them how frustrated you were after blowing off another tefillah. They are already watching. It's up to you to see what they'll learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment