Catholic Family Fuel: It comes down to prayer
October 12, 2011
By Sean Reynolds
God, do you ever lose sleep over your children? I do. I’ve got one who struggles for Cs in school: what kind of future is out there for him? I’ve got another with a chemical imbalance that makes her crazy sometimes. Thank God for docs and meds. Correction, thank you. Our oldest is so bold and confident on the outside, and so fragile and sensitive on the inside. He acts like he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, but it’s all show. And our youngest, with Down Syndrome, such a joy and yet I worry what will happen to her if she outlasts us? God, it’s 3:00 a.m., and I’m staring at the ceiling and feeling really anxious and wish that sleep would come. I need you. Jesus, Spirit, Father, I need you.
Dear, dear child of mine: I know the cares of your heart from the inside out, and I’m here for you, even here, especially here when the dark closes in and your heart aches and dawn seems like forever away. We are both parents, you and I, and we know our children, heart and soul. When you pray, I’m here. When you forget to pray, I’m here. When your heart thunders in your chest with worry, I’m here. When you feel doubt, when your mind races and sleep fails, I’m here. You are my beloved child, and your children are mine too. Rest now, rest in my love. We’re in this together. Let me take your fear and give you trust. Let me take your worry and give you consolation and confidence in me, in yourself, in our parenting together, in your children. All shall be well…
Absent a relationship with God, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we parent at our peril. Parenting serves up some of the most daunting and serious life challenges a human being may face. Why go it alone? Why not turn to the One who invented parenting, and who is powerfully present parenting us even now in our adulthood? We are God’s children even as we parent our own children, and God is an absolutely reliable partner, in our corner 24/7.
It’s too bad we lose sight of this and let busyness crowd out the most important stuff. If we’re in the habit of turning to God moment to moment, it will be far easier to do it in the dead of night when worries crowd out sleep. As a parent I need the habit of prayer so engrained, so hard-wired into me that I’ll be absolutely confident that, even when it’s darkest “…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,* nor future things, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).
It’s been said prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It’s also been said that practice makes perfect. (Who hasn’t repeated that advice to kids?) With prayer we need to take our own advice to heart. Some practical suggestions:
• Make it a habit: Prayer is exercise for the soul. Like exercise, if you skip a few days those days turn into weeks and months. Also like exercise, we need both the short sprints (a quick “Thanks!” or “Please…”) and regular, longer workouts. Build them into your day when it works best for you. For some it’s the morning or mid-day, for others at night. Whether sitting in quiet, walking or lying down, try different times and methods, find what works for you, and stick with it.
• Find your way to pray: Our Catholic tradition is deep and rich when it comes to ways to pray. For some. the rosary is the anchor. For others, it’s sacred Scripture and lectio divina (sacred reading). Mass is for some the indispensable beginning of every day, and eucharistic adoration a weekly source of strength and inspiration. Silence works for some, for others music, for others the common prayer of the church, the Liturgy of the Hours. The Holy Spirit works differently in different people, so it’s important to find the prayer ways that make our hearts deepen, expand and grow in love. There likely will be a healthy mix of different ways of praying in any given day, and over a lifetime you’ll grow out of and into a rich variety of prayer forms.
• Keep prayer reminders close by: Carry a rosary in your pocket all the time. Hang a crucifix from your car mirror. Wear a religious medal or cross as a necklace, bracelet or ring. Place inspirational religious art and sayings where you work and relax. Some families have set aside a special place in the house — a family chapel of sorts — where family members can go for quiet, peace, prayer and inspiration. Keep your Scriptures there, along with inspirational reading, art and music.
• Join a prayer group, and/or get a spiritual director/companion: While there are powerful forces at work in our world pulling us away from prayer and faith, thankfully there are people whose faith and prayer can feed our own, and vice versa. In prayer we’re partnering not only with God, but with others. That’s the way Christian prayer works. So join a prayer group or build one with friends from your church, and consider meeting with a spiritual director/companion — someone with specialized training in assisting people to pray. That way, when it’s hard to pray, the prayer of others carries us, and vice versa.
• Pray with your kids: Ironclad research concludes that parents have the greatest impact on their kids’ faith. Nothing else even comes close. Ideally they’ll catch the habits of prayer from us and find their way into living the minute-to-minute, day-to-day presence of God. Of all the many life skills that children absorb from their parents, sustaining a personal relationship with Christ in prayer ought to be at the top of the list.
• Pray individually, as a family, and with the faith community: Christian prayer is always personal, but never private. As Christians, our prayer connects us with Christ, and in Christ to His body, and all creation. So we pray individually, and with our families, and with the church at Sunday Eucharist — the source and summit of all Christian prayer — in a weekly rhythm that saturates a Catholic’s soul and sends us outward in loving service. As parents, we nurture not only our own personal prayer, but also prayer in our families. This means not just prayer at meal times, but other times as well. Some families start the day together in prayer. Some take time every evening for a few decades of the rosary, or for shared spontaneous prayer. If you make your family prayer a beloved tradition when your kids are young, like reading to them before bedtime, it can be “a gift that keeps on giving” when they’re grown with their own children.
In any partnership, it takes both partners to show up and make an effort. In Jesus Christ we have the ultimate expression of God’s desire to partner with us. It’s up to us to open our hearts to that most amazing grace by nurturing the habits of prayer in our lives and in the lives of our families.
Reynolds is director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.