Friday, July 24, 2009

The Family That Prays Together Really Needs To

No. Really. It's true.

When my wife and I were newlyweds, we decided that when our "two become one" became three or more, that we would commit to praying as a family on a daily basis. We actually asked God in prayer to help us with this. (The knowing now nod knowingly.) Well - God really likes prayer, and you know, the more the merrier, so God must really enjoy family prayer. Asking God to help us pray is one of those slam dunk prayers. It's like asking Him to send forth His Spirit. He can't wait to say yes.

I'm sure you're familiar with the musings about what happens when you ask God for something. Metaphorically it breaks down like this: ask God for toast and he will make you hungrier so that you will learn how to make toast. Well, experience has shown us that asking God to make family prayer a daily norm is pretty much the same as asking God to send us more and more reasons to need Him - daily. Big reasons, sometimes.

In the eleven years since our stormy (El NiƱo downpour) Valentine's Day wedding, God has blessed us with a total of three healthy children, a comfortable house (although no A\C in 90+ temps at the moment), supportive friends and family, and a great parish community. We've also had the death of a parent and a grandparent, layoffs, unemployment, a broken hip and a broken knee (mine then hers), a child with asthma, and the assorted bumps in the head and bumps in the night that keep us, as a family, in daily need of a quality relationship with our loving and ever listening God. So - daily prayer is a given. The question then becomes, how does a family go about it?

* Family Prayer Fail
Just because we should and do pray as a family, doesn't mean we always get it right. One experiment that didn't go as planned was our attempt to address two challenges with a combo strategy. First, the kids were not loving bedtime. They didn't kiss us, pull their comforters up to their chins and cutely drift off to sleep each night. Second, we were finding ourselves so exhausted after finally getting the kids to sleep, that we would take turns falling asleep during our couple prayer time. My wife heard from a friend that small children could be lulled to sleep by the sound of their parents praying, so we decided that after the kids had been scrubbed, read to, prayed with, and tucked in, we would linger in the soft darkness of their room and say a rosary while they drifted to sleep, hopefully somewhere between the fist few decades. What follows is a near to actual transcript:

Me: In the name of the (put Superman down - under your pillow) of the Father, and of the (Now. Under the pillow and leave him there) and of the Son, and of (Here. Give it to me.)

Daughter 1: I'm thirsty.

Wife: Shhh. You already had a drink, baby. Lay down.

Me: And of the (leave your sister's hair alone!) and of the Holy Spirit.

Wife: Give Batman to me. Now. I told you he can't have these under his pillow.

Daughter 2: I have to go potty.

And so on . . .

* Family Prayer Alleluias
The good news is, in spite of stumbling here and there, we have been successful in establishing prayer as a natural component in our children's lives. Grace before meals (at home and in public.) Bedtime prayers. Road trip prayers. Siren prayers. Where did Daddy leave his car keys prayers. These are all norms of daily family prayer in our household. A phone call or a neighbor's knock at the door that presents someone facing a challenge will usually lead to a spontaneous prayer huddle joined by whomever is in the room at the time.

We continue to seek new ways to incorporate natural and authentic family conversations with God. My wife recently came up with a good one. She had purchased two nicely bound journals after we made our Marriage Encounter Weekend. Loved the weekend, but let's just say the journals were "available." My wife labeled one of them "Our Family Prayer Book" and the other "Our Family Miracle Book." We introduced them to the kids as our family prayer journals, and we told them that all of us would have access to write in them. The first journal was intended to record the needs which we were placing before God, our petitions and our intercessions. The second was to record God's answers - the big and little miracles that happen daily. We've found that it has been wonderfully insightful to be reminded of the storms that threatened our little boat last year, realizing now that God had seen us through each storm . The Miracle Book, which is basically our thank you notes to God, is where we really write our family story. This is an ongoing record of God saying yes to our prayers, where we remember in written form all of our family's safe comings and goings, our prayers for the health of family and friends, recovery from illness, the security of our home and neighborhood, even the found keys and action figures. This is where we can say to God, "Wow! Thanks! That was awesome! Again!"

And so the journey continues. We continue to pray together. As a family. Daily. How could we not? Why would we not? Lord, to whom would we go?

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