When I was younger, on many - albeit sporadic - occasions my mom tried to wrangle the seven of us kids into the living room, along with my dad - who was inevitably tired and grouchy after a long day of work - and engage in some semblance of family time. A lot of the time, prayer was on the agenda, but often got drowned out by the heightened emotional drama that bounces around the atmosphere of a small house with nine occupants and not a lot of really good communication skills.
In many ways we were a close-knit family, and in many ways we were as broken as the rest of them. But despite all that, my mom tried her best to do what she knew God asked of her as our mother, and I love her for it. It has been this specific example of "family time" she so lovingly and desperately tried to set for us that has challenged me to attempt to do the same, only hoping to have a much better outcome.
There are some nights that have followed long, exhausting days, and the entire family morale is not exactly at its highest. It is on these nights I have to do everything I possibly can to drag myself out of my hole and make sure we spend at least a few minutes with each other in prayer, thanking God for our day- however horrible it may have been. It's a tough feat on many occasions. And, yes, sometimes I do fail. Thank the Lord that the older 2 children - ages 5 1/2 and 7 (and often, my almost-4 year old as well) - have some awareness of the need because they will most certainly make it known that we will miss family prayer if they just go off to bed. Which is a very important ingredient, that awareness, especially at times like those which teeter painfully close to the edge of failure. Family prayer time has become a ritual in our house; one that started in spurts and even with my best intentions at its core, stopped for long length of time. It began anew about a year ago. With a sense of gusto and determination, we began one of the only traditions our little family has made so far in our seven years together.
It is always a joy to come together as a family, even after the most complicated and heart-wrenching days (which are oft to happen, what with 4 small children, a business to run, homeschooling, and an anxiety-ridden husband). It is so amazing how the innocent mumblings of a fidgety 4 year old can melt the contents of even the hardest days into little more than a memory, replacing the darkness with a peaceful, gentle light. Or to hear our 7 year old thank God for the opportunity to "have a great day" and ask Him to give her a heart to be obedient.
Good stuff, eh?!
My favorite part, I have to say, is when our 2 year old starts us off. She closes her eyes (she used to put her little hands over them), leans forward to bury her face in the covers on our bed and mumbles words mostly inaudible and incomprehensible to us. Sometimes we catch the phrase "thank you for this day," which is said by each of us when we take our turn. The rest...we can only guess at. But God knows, doesn't He? And I can be pretty certain that He is listening intently, probably chuckling a little, and is taking the opportunity to settle Himself in her tiny 2-year-old heart so as to awaken in her a sense of Him- His infinite love and grace.
We usually have an entire evening ritual. I am unsure as to whether I've yet written about how HORRIBLE our evenings usually go with actually getting the kids to go to sleep. Somehow, our prayer time before-hand helps a little. They still usually end up staying awake for what seems like years after we finally tuck them in. But somehow, it's more bearable to deal with...most nights. Our ritual consists of getting their jammies on (sometimes they have baths but let's be honest here, they do not get one every night!), brushing their teeth, going around to each member of the family to say out loud whatever we have on our hearts. We then read a story..or five. Finally, it's off to bed.
I kinda like that cheesy phrase "the family that prays together, stays together." I feel like it's true in many respects, because we are forming bonds with each other using the strongest thread there is - prayer to a gracious and loving Father. Certainly He wants us to maintain that bond and will give us the tools we need to do so. So I pray that God will bless our efforts and that even through the years, we can maintain our tradition and use the time we spend in this way to grow with each other in the strength of our faith and family life. I also pray that even if life's difficulties get in the way sometimes, that our children can always look back on this time and see the intentions; see the efforts and take them as their own, attempting to make the outcome far surpass anything we ever do right now.