My parents were geniuses at splitting up household duties—Momma was a stay-at-home parent for much of our growing up, and Daddy was a schoolteacher. She regulated things with the house and us all day long, and Daddy was in charge of putting us to bed, so she could have a red-hot minute to herself. This also allowed us to have regular, concentrated face-time every day with both of our parents.
Since my brother is four years younger than I am, we had staggered bedtimes, so we each got a pretty good slice of uninterrupted, unshared time and attention from our him at the end of each day. For as long as I can remember, our evenings at home ended the same way: bath time led directly into bedtime. But bedtime wasn’t just about going to bed.
As we climbed into bed, Daddy would ask us about our day—what we had learned, how things were going, who we played with. He would read a chapter out of Little House on the Prairie to me, and my brother would get something from Winnie the Pooh or Paddington Bear. After the story, we would say our prayers out loud with each other. “Now I lay me down to sleep…” followed by the list of people we loved, or missed, or didn’t particularly like. And then, he would kiss us, and send us off to sleep.
On hard days or when tough things would happen in our family life, both Momma and Daddy would come in to pray with us. Not just stand over our beds, mind you, but climb right in with us, holding us while we talked about what was going on, all of us asking Jesus, together, to help us understand how to be more loving, or kind, or gracious. But our days, whether they were good days or hard days, always ended with prayer. As I grew older, and as we became Episcopalian, our nighttime ritual moved from our separate bedrooms into my parents’ bedroom. We would all pile in the middle of their king-sized bed and pray Compline together, talking about how our days had gone, what we were looking forward to, or what we were struggling with.
I know this sounds like I’m making it up—this little family of mine, piled in a bed, praying along with The Book of Common Prayer. But we did that. And it profoundly shaped our family. That intentional, focused time of prayer and reflection as a family was something that we continued in sickbeds, hospital rooms, hotel rooms, the family mini-van, etc. Our prayer time was sacrosanct, even in the midst of crazy schedules, heartbreaking life-events, joyful celebrations, trips out of town, etc. It was a thing we always, always did. Praying together was one of the most solid and explicit ways we reminded each other of what it meant to be family.
My father died when I was 18 and my brother was 14. That is a loss that has marked us. He’s been dead now for more than half my life. Even after he died, when I would come home from college on the weekends, the three of us left would pile into the bed for our prayers, even though that was really hard to do without him there. But he was there, praying along with us, even from behind the veil, surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses who always pray along with us.
What continues to live, move, and help give me being are the habits he and my mother intentionally placed smack in the middle of my little-kid life—the personal and intimate relationship with Jesus that he and she encouraged us to grow in our hearts and lives, the acts of daily devotion that continue to carry me through my grown-up life.
Praying for your babies, your big kids, your teenagers, your adult children—praying at all life stages matters profoundly. Praying with them, side by side, matters. You may wonder if they are paying attention, if they really get it, if it’s worth dealing with the squirming and tangents and redirect. I promise you that it is—that they hear you, that they will remember, and that they will cling to the promises you have taught them to believe with your own prayers. This 37-year-old baby still takes her bath, reads her chapter, and says her prayers (and sometimes, even says Compline) pretty much the same way every night. And I am grateful to God for giving me parents who taught me to pray by praying with me (and for me) every single day.
Did you grow up with a family prayer practice? What was it like?