Sunday, February 14, 2010

How to Pray with Small Children

In honor of Lent this coming week, I wanted to share my small observations on this topic. Here are some helpful tips that might work for no one's home but my own.

1) Pray In the Midst of Calcutta

In my house, our prayer corner is a small table next to a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary in my dining area. (Our apartment is laid out as one giant square box with living room, dining room and kitchen all open and inter-connected.) My husband and I pray the Daily Office first thing in the morning next to the dining room table, rather than cloistered off into our bedroom. Our kids get up, turn on the TV, play with legos, talk loudly with each other and generally ignore their parents.

I found that when my kids can see me praying, they are generally content to leave me alone for twenty minutes. If I tried to hide in a closet to pray in great silence, my kids will freak out and come find me, convinced I'm doing something super fun in my secret space.

2)Deal Patiently with Interruptions

When you're chatting with anyone, including the Creator of the Universe, your kids will interrupt you. My model is St. France of Rome who got interrupted from her prayers 12 times in a row, calmly went back to praying each time. On the last time her prayer was written in solid gold.

I try to remind myself that God understands my situation! He gave me these babies. My job is to patiently deal with whatever need is critical, and kindly remind my kids that all non-urgent requests can wait until "Mama is done talking to God." I prove my dedication not by having some amazing transcendental mountain top experience every morning, but by persistently returning to my prayer time after each distraction.

3) Pray Immediately After the Kids Bedtime

We have three young kids who share the same room. Bed time can be exhausting, some nights. Even though all I want after the bedtime routine is finished is to grab some tea (or a stiff drink) and relax on the couch with my husband, I found that if we both IMMEDIATELY start out evening prayer ritual the night goes so much smoother. Even if bed time turns into one of those awful, bleeding into the late night times, I'm so much calmer after a simple 30 second recharge with God.

So each night at 8:00 PM, my husband and I stumble exhausted into our prayer corner and start praying the Evening Prayer of the Divine Office. Some nights the frequent "I need you..." mean that we don't finish praying until 9:15 PM. It's such a great use of our time. Praying keeps us from fighting with our kids or each other. Praying first helps us to clean the house faster later. I've had so many sweet, sweet evenings with my husband since we started to pray first and talk later. Even if we have only an hour together before bed, it's a happy time when we're both recharged and refreshed after a tough day.

4) Enjoy Life with Babies

In heaven, all of us will be contemplatives. That will be our job for the rest of eternity. Whatever small piece of this crazy, short life that we hand over to God will help us get to our end goal.

Prayer is everything. All the concrete actions that we do each day, are all outreaches of our inner relationship with God.

And because Prayer is so important, there are going to always be tons of distractions. St. Anthony in the Desert, had distractions from his prayer life. So that being said, there is something for learning how to pray in the midst of lots of young kids.

The truth is that as mothers, we're not living fabulous lives of luxury and comfort. I never have to say "Sorry girls, I've got to leave our fascinating mah jong game to go pray my half an hour prayer of the quiet." Instead, I simply decide to forgo picking up legos off the couch to go pray with my husband.

In that sense, because our life as mothers is so simple, because our life is hard, because we're exhausted at the close of each day, it's far easier to appreciate our intense dependence upon God.

One of my Carmelite friends is the mother of 10 children and someone in our class questioned how she could possibly pray each day with that many children. My friend simply answered "I get up before anyone else in my family wakes up to get in my half-an-hour because I need to pray everyday." That answer mystified my classmate. Yet it made perfect sense to me. If you've got 10 kids from ages 2 to 20, you need to pray everyday. I need to pray everyday and I've only got four!

Anyway, hope these brief notes encourage you to carve out some prayer time this Lent.