Praying with the children at night

Every evening after reading a chapter of storybook to the kids, I conduct a time of prayer or contemplation. I’ve tried a lot of different things and haven’t been at all satisfied with much of it. For a good year or two I tried just praying extemporaneously as my parents had always done, but I really didn’t like doing just that. I felt as though I wasn’t able to say what I really wanted to and the words often came out sounding petty. It was inferred that God was friendly, but not exactly full of majesty or power.

Changing gears, I tried using just recited prayers, specifically the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, both of which they learned pretty quickly and asked a lot of questions about. That was good for a while. We even learned to recite the Lord’s prayer in Ethiopian Amharic to honor some of Abi’s heritage. But, this had a lot of potential to just become canned and I began to see my son’s eyes glaze over while we recited it.

I then switched to reading some scripture every night. I got about halfway through the book of Luke, reading a half chapter at a time and asking some follow-up questions. The problem is, as exciting as the gospel accounts are, they really don’t quite have the sustained narrative excitement of The Hobbit or Harry Potter. I also felt like the youngest kids were having trouble discerning between the imaginative fiction and the apostolic accounts. Not a good mix. It also wasn’t making prayer go any better. Attention spans are a bit dicey at the end of the day for children still in the single digits.

For the past five or six weeks though, I’ve hit upon something that really seems to be a nice mix and is working pretty well. I’ve been using the daily office prayer book compiled by Phyllis Tickle called The Divine Hours. Since we go to bed at about 8:00 PM, I always end up using the Vespers prayers, but they are different for each day of the week. Included is a bunch of snippets from the psalms that sound really great read aloud – drawing attention to the attributes of God. Also included is a refrain (usually just one sentence from one of the psalms) that is repeated at three different spots. I teach this to the kids before we start so they can say it along with me at the right time. The Lord’s prayer is also there in the middle, as is two opportunities for making the sign of the cross, which I tell them is like praying with your hands instead of your words. Sometimes there is a well-known hymn too. So in total there are three different things for them to participate in directly.

Before the concluding prayer, I make up a prayer to say all four of the kids in turn. Now that this isn’t standing alone by itself, it feels much easier to come up with something meaningful to thank God for and to ask Him for. I find myself getting much less tongue-tied when filling my mind with the psalms for a few minutes beforehand and not feeling like I have to make up a lot of  things at the moment. All in all, the whole thing only takes about five minutes to do too, so nobody nods off. It’s also different enough each day to keep me interested as well! I’m excited for Advent to start as some of the selections are seasonal.

Having felt largely a failure at getting anything resembling “family worship time” going for years on end, I consider this a real encouraging development. It seems like a pretty good mix of the sorts of things I want to teach my kids to know and do.

Along these lines, I was especially delighted at the concluding prayer from last night, which actually reflects back on difficulties with prayer itself:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon your church the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.