Thank you to Erica Jarrett for contributing to our BCP in Daily Life series. Erica Jarrett is a family doctor and mother of one daughter. She currently works with Trinity on the Border, a non-profit ministry of the Anglican Church in North America which she and her husband Michael founded in South Texas. She blogs at liturgyoflife.com.
My daughter was born one year prior to me finishing my residency as a Family Medicine doctor. I remember well those foggy nights, driving home at midnight to nurse her before returning to the hospital to work till morning. Under the strain of constant exhaustion, I tried to reach out to God but wasn’t sure how — my old habits of prayer and quiet time seemed to be impossible to maintain in my new life as a working mom.
For many, like me, spending time in personal devotion is what may define our faith. But juggling the realities of childrearing or fast-paced careers (or both), often eliminates any routine which requires extended time at the table sipping coffee, or focus enough to read more than a sentence of the Bible. We feel drained and all attempts at finding quiet are daily obliterated by sticky hands and wailing toddlers.
As we battle to preserve our personal faith practice, we often need a reminder that it is God Himself who gave us these little ones. And so, when He says to pray continually, He likely doesn’t mean for us to abandon our children and sit in quiet solitude all day. God does not expect us to do the impossible; He calls us along with our family, not apart from them.
During residency, my husband, a priest in the Anglican Church of North America, began offering a daily podcast of traditional Anglican morning and evening prayer services at thetrinitymission.org. Since that time we have spent four years exploring ways to help families and individuals develop habits of daily prayer.
Prayer can take different forms and The Church, in her abundance, has given us many resources, which we can use to shape our own devotional life. In my current routine I almost never sit down alone and read the Bible for extended periods of time. Yet by familiarizing myself with Christian traditions and establishing new habits in my home, my prayer life has become richer than ever before. Certainly prayer with a preschool aged daughter looks different than it did 10 years ago but it is just as satisfying. We are currently in the season of Lent which is often a time for reflection and establishing new disciplines so I wanted to share a few habits that have been helpful for our family.
- Start your day with thetrinitymission.org (of course I have to tout my husband’s ministry first, I’m not biased or anything). These prayer services last about 20 minutes and include a Psalm, Old Testament and New Testament reading, The Lords Prayer, a creed, several canticles (which you will soon learn by heart) and time to pray for yourself, your family and the world. You can listen quietly in your room and pray along, but you can also listen on a run, in the car, in the kitchen or while pushing a stroller.
- Make the most of your mealtime and bedtime prayers. Our family recites part of a psalm together before we eat so that with each meal we have a chance to meditate on God’s word. At bedtime we use a short prayer from the Compline service.
- Punctuate your day with prayer. When you start a task, peeling onions or heading to T-ball include a quick, “Bless this O Lord,” and when you finish, “Glory be to God.” In times of stress find a simple prayer like the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on Me a Sinner.” These short prayers, spoken regularly throughout the day, serve to constantly redirect us back to our Creator. Through them we learn gratitude and begin to see God’s hand at work even in mundane moments of our day.
- Pray and read scripture at the table. While your kids are finishing up (mine loves to pick at her food) pull out a Bible and read through the gospels or other narrative portions together. If your child is small read the story from a picture Bible first and then again out of your Bible. By the time they are 4 years old and familiar with the characters, they will be excited to heard the story from your Bible (they can still keep theirs out and look at pictures if that helps). This allows you to read scripture together even when your children are young. Now a days I don’t spend as much time in the epistles but I know the stories of the Old Testament and the Gospels far better than I ever.
- Use physical reminders. I have a corner set aside in my room with a picture of Jesus and a prayer book. It helps to have a place to go to pray even if it is just across the room. I only spend a few minutes there kneeling or standing (never sitting, I would fall asleep) but for those moments I can actually focus my attention on prayer. Likewise, using an icon and candle during family prayer to will help kids engage and focus. Sitting quietly will be rewarded with a chance to blow out the candle. You can also include pictures of loved ones that you are praying for or other tangible reminders like a cross that the child can hold in their hands only during prayer time.
- Memorize scripture together. As kids grow they have an amazing capacity to learn scripture, especially when put to music. Find a chant or musical tune or make one up. If you are nursing a baby keep a psalm handy and slowly memorize it by singing it as you feed. As your child grows you can sing it through together. You don’t need to memorize huge passages, focus on one learning one psalm per year. Repeating the same verses daily you will find that the words take on new meaning and depth as your circumstances change. Psalm 23 is a great one to get you started.
- Just plain old sing as much as you can. When my daughter was little our morning prayer was a sung version of the doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below, Praise Him above ye heavenly host, Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost.” Now we also have a sung version of the Lord’s Prayer. Traditional hymns contain beautiful prayers along with complex ideas and language that kids love and which can teach all of us to genuinely express our longings for God in the midst of hectic days.
Let us trust God and embrace our current season of life for all its gifts and challenges. By God’s grace our exhaustion will move us deeper into prayer and The Church in her rich tradition will teach us how to do it. My prayer for you as I write is that your life would be saturated with the love of Christ and that you would continue joyfully down this path of knowing God through the wonders of family life in this season of Lent.
I would love to hear from you, what sorts of habits have helped you to continue in prayer through the transitions of life?