This week, my small children have been in vacation fallout mode and it’s made me very thankful to return to our family rhythms of morning and evening prayer.*
I set church bells as an alarm on my phone, so ideally, around 9am or so, we gather together. My 3 year old generally fights it (but she fights everything). It’s very normal for her to energetically cry through the first half of our prayers.
But it doesn’t matter. This year, I’ve become less easily deflated by my kids’ resistance, knowing that it’s just as vital for us to structure our day with prayer as it is to have regular, healthy meals. The 3 year old resists food as well, but it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need to eat in order to live.
And for me, I’ve come to realize that family prayer isn’t only a matter of parents catechizing our children. It’s not just for them. These times aren’t the “kid version” of the real thing. It’s all the real thing.
When we pray together, we are realigning ourselves with the Real. We are “seeking first the Kingdom of God” and subverting the time of the world. We are coming up against the truth that no matter how we feel in a given moment, prayer is the ground of our life. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. We are citizens of heaven, fed with heavenly bread and wine, singing the songs of our home in a strange land.
Since we are coming to a city that cannot be moved, I’m relieved and grateful that our primary prayers are fixed and stable. The Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms and canticles, the versicles and responses — we join with saints in countless number, bringing our sacrifice of praise. The reality does not in any way depend on my feelings about it, or my abilities at the moment to articulate it.
On the outside, it may just look like tired parents wrangling rowdy children and reciting prayers through relentless interruptions. But in truth, we are returning to our source, reaffirming our identity, receiving our promised grace.
I think I spent my whole life building up elaborate emotional structures on which to base my faith — which was really my feeling — of God. But the “strength of our salvation” does not come from my feelings of faith, but from grace. And the efficacy of my prayer does not depend on how good I feel about it.
I recently finished reading Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. I’ve been endlessly encouraged by this section on prayer:
“Most glad and happy is our Lord about our prayer, and He watches for it and He wishes to enjoy it, because with His grace it makes us like Himself in character as we are in nature. And this is His blessed will, for He says this:
‘Prayer inwardly even though it seems to give thee no pleasure, for it is beneficial enough though thou perceivest it not.
Pray inwardly, though thou sensest nothing, though thou seest nothing, yea, though thou thinkest thou canst achieve nothing,
for in dryness and barrenness,
in sickness and in feebleness,
then is thy prayer completely pleasing to me, though it seems to give thee but little pleasure. And thus all thy living is prayer in my eyes.”
I realize that she is speaking of “inward prayer.” But, out of the structures of liturgical prayer flows a life of inward prayer, of practicing the presence of God. I find that the more I live structured by outward prayer, the more freely I pray inwardly. And, in this life stage, this primarily looks like a commitment to morning and evening family prayer, no matter how I feel about it — even when it’s very short and not quite so sweet.
*We view our family morning and evening prayer as a “school for the daily office.” So, even though we don’t pray the full morning and evening office, we want our children to become familiar with the various parts of it, especially singing the canticles. Our goal is working up to this truncated form of the office that Dcn. Eric Parker wrote about for the North American Anglican.