Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on March 6, 2007.
OK, so it’s not quite that bad… Most of the time. And I do not want to discourage anyone from having family prayer time. In fact, just the opposite. It is a good and rewarding thing. The paradox is, you don’t realize until after the fact how good and rewarding it is, because when you have small children, it doesn’t feel like a well-oiled, grace-filled experience. But there are moments of clarity where you say “OK, that’s really cool.” In particular, when they start asking questions and real conversation evolves.
Every night, our family gathers in the living room for prayer time. It’s the pre-bed ritual, which means the kids know that the longer they can put off prayer time, the later they can stay up. And since they know they go to bed after prayer time, there is no incentive to cut it short, either. At least the older daughters have this all figured out. The boys still have the attention span of an ADD-ridden gnat, and so there is not a lot of logic to be found with their behavior.
We started this long enough ago that it’s a given by now. It has become a beautiful routine that I truly believe brings our family together. This is done through supernatural means, though, because I am no help in the matter. I’m impatient with demonstrations of less-than-perfect piety, which means I am perpetually disappointed in someone’s less-than-perfect performance during prayer time. Believe me, I am not bragging here. Countless times I have called myself a less-than-perfect loser for making this more stressful than it need be. I tried praying for patience, but I gave up, because God wasn’t responding fast enough.
Our ritual is this: Read a blurb about the Saint of the Day – at this point, the 3 year old is fluffing a pillow and either the 2 year old or the 5 year old or both have received their first warning regarding some randomly unacceptable behavior; Read a Chapter from the Bible (we have just started Ecclesiasticus) – at this point, the 3-year old is settled in and very comfy and the five year old has been moved to a different location where he will stop causing trouble; During most of the year, we say a decade or two of the Rosary on most nights (It takes approximately two Hail Marys for the 3-year old to be out cold and another 3 Hail marys before all prayer has been stopped and some punishment has been doled out: 90% chance it’s the five year old), and once or twice a week we’ll say the whole Rosary. During Lent we are doing the entire Rosary each night as a family, with an occasional Divine Mercy; We have a special little prayer to end abortion, and then finally we always end with a prayer to the Sacred Heart (since we enthroned our family to the Sacred Heart a couple years ago). At the end of that prayer we do a Litany of Saints. The three at the end of the prayer are the Immaculate Heart of Mary; St. Joseph, Protector of the Christian; Our Guardian Angels and Patron Saints. For good measure, these favorites are usually added: the Saint of the Day, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Francis of Asissi, St. Francis Borgia, St. Odilia, St. Gerard, St. Jude, St. Lucy, St. Peregrin and whatever stikes our fancy at the time. Thanks be to God, the five year old enjoys doing the Litany!
All this is wonderful, and I cannot express enough the importance of praying together as a family.
Now, if only I would listen to my own advice, and realize the joy of it while it’s happening. I admit to getting too focused on behavior, and quite honestly I question the example I am setting. Saying the Rosary should not be a blood-pressure elevating experience, for the love of Pete (whoever this Pete guy is…)
I have talked to other parents about their prayer time. Some do less, some do more. Everyone will gravitate to their own comfort zone over time. When we started, we never did the Rosary, instead doing a number of other prayers. After we were enthroned, we decided to stick with at least a partial Rosary every night.
Prayer can be a challenge. If you are not praying as a family yet, I highly recommend that you start somewhere. Dive in! Start small, with a greater goal in mind. Once the routine of just gathering and doing it is firmly established and habitual, it’s much easier to do a little extra. Pick prayers the whole family enjoys, or have everyone say a few words, or try the Rosary (with little kids, the Divine Mercy may be perfect – it doesn’t take near as long and even little kids pick up on it’s simplistic, yet powerful, prayer). And I think it’s really a good idea to start reading the Bible together, as well, at least at some point. Don’t take on so much that it seems unsustainable. God will meet you where you are. You’ll figure something out. You’re smart people.
And, if you’re questioning the value of prayer at those times where you just don’t “feel” like praying, when you are going through the motions, etc. I offer this consideration: sure, it’s easy to pray when you feel like it. It’s easy to pray when you get some direct benefit (a feeling of closeness to God, a petition for a desperate cause, or simply a feel-good emotional high of some sort that “raises the spirit”). That is a good thing, to benefit. But prayer is not really about you. It’s primarily about God. A relationship demands committment. I personally believe that the prayers that God values most are those prayers we say when we force ourselves to take the time out, even when we have no emotional desire to do so. It shows commitment, and it requires discipline. I hold myself up as not a great example in this regard. I am weak. Would it not be for the commitment we have as a family, I have no doubt that I would not consistently follow through with my obligation. Sad, but true. I need His assistance with this on a constant basis. We all need to buckle down and just do it! (I hope using a shoe’s advertising slogan hasn’t cheapened the message. At least I used an expensive shoe.)
And while you’re at it, feel free to pray for me!