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praying the particulars

I’m willing to bet that M.D. mamas secretly troll Dr. Google for quick answers to questions about mysterious rashes and childhood ailments.

So I’ll admit that one late night recently found me googling “prayer for stressed-out mother.” (Tsk, tsk – such a poor pastoral response for a mother with a MDiv!) Yet my need was great, my desire to pray was strong, and my ability to form thoughts into words was positively shot. And despite stacks of theological volumes around me, I came up empty-handed for a prayer that spoke to my heart.

I needed someone else’s words.

While I didn’t find exactly what my Google search sought, I was delighted to uncover a treasure I’d never found before – a collection of prayers for mothers from Creighton University’s Online Ministries.

The prayer for working mothers touched my heart (and made me chuckle), but I found myself pausing at prayers that didn’t speak to my life situation. The prayer for a mother with Alzheimer’s is heart-wrenching, as is the beautiful prayer for a mother whose children are no longer at home.

What I appreciate most about these prayers is their particularity. They don’t lump experiences of motherhood into one quick blessing. Instead, each one lifts up a unique aspect of mothering. Far from closing the window to those whose lives don’t match the situation described, the sharpened focus allows prayer to reflect in many directions, like a prism’s light.

Every day perfect strangers find my blog in search of prayer. I see the words that bring them here: prayers for pregnancy, prayers for anxiety and parenting, prayers for childbirth. Sometimes I see desperate words: prayers for unexpected pregnancy, prayers for depression. I wonder if they find anything here that speaks to their need; I wonder if I could do something more to help.

But all I can do is pray my own prayers. From the particular perspective of my life, my questions, my circumstances. And yet finding those prayers for mothering that spoke about Alzheimer’s and adoption and all sorts of situations that don’t reflect my own, I realized the merits of praying the particulars: even if they are not my words, someone else’s story can shed light on my own understanding of the divine.

So I’ve started scribbling down some prayers. Prayers for particular situations that are challenging for my parenting these days. Perhaps they’ll ring true to your struggles. Or perhaps they won’t, but they’ll remind you of someone else. Or another season in your life. Or they’ll simply reflect God’s light through a part of the prism you never noticed before.

What I really hope they’ll do is inspire you to pray the particulars of your own life. Because as interesting as someone else’s words may be, the Word of God inspires each of us to speak words of our own.

So if you’re wondering just why I’ve been so stressed out lately, check back tomorrow for the first in this series. (Here’s a hint: we’re eating lots of pizza for dinner and should have bought stock in Home Depot.) Maybe by the end of the week you’ll have your own particular prayer to share, too…

What part of parenting is challenging for you this week?

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10 thoughts on “praying the particulars

  1. Great resource! The two that resonate for me — for a mother who’s children have left home (not all the way there yet, but getting close) and for adult children. Thanks.

    • Aren’t those beautiful? In my work we hear a lot of stories about vocational questions in retirement: what does work mean now that my paid career is over? What is God asking of me in this new stage? Those two prayers helped me to see the mother’s version of this same question: how am I mother now that my children are grown and gone? What am I being asked to do in this next chapter of my life?

  2. I’m praying for strength despite poor sleep with a five week old. Also, doing an elimination diet for what appears to be an allergic reaction on my baby’s part to something I’m eating. No dairy is a big sacrifice (and no gluten, soy, corn, red meat, or nuts) for me! Offering it up for my friends who are hoping to conceive.

    • Aie, lots of sacrifices on your plate. (Or rather, off your plate.) It’s wonderful that you’re able to frame them in terms of love for your friends and prayers for their hopes. Such a beautiful example of particularity!

  3. Lovely post. Praying the particulars is, indeed, helpful. I used to dismiss formulaic prayers, particularly those found in or based on Scripture. What did the Hail Mary say that I couldn’t say better? What did the Our Father offer that I couldn’t speak to myself? And the psalms–what could they teach me?

    Turns out, quite a bit. Sometimes we do need the words of others in order to find our own.

    In college the psalms of praise, the ones that exclaimed the grandness of God, gave me words for the expansiveness of God I was experiencing. In recent years, I’ve learned the value of lamenting with the psalms…saying words of deep grief that have been said and shared and prayed and shouted for many years. At times, I turn to Psalm 51 because I need to be reminded that reconcilitation is necessary; I need to remember how to apologize. And when I’m anxious, nothing calms my racing heart and irrational fears better than Psalm 131 or Paul’s admotion that we “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That last has gotten me through many a plane ride.

    Irene Nowell has often talked about how the psalms soak into ones bones when they’re prayed day in and day out. I like that concept. It makes them into our spiritual calcium. I’m not very good at taking vitamins daily…literal or figurative. But yes, the words of others–Scripture or otherwise–often shed light on our situations, strengthen us for the journey, and show us the way to God.

    • “Spiritual calcium” – I love it! Your description of your relationship with Scrpiture and prayer is so rich – you have a history with these words. I, too, have struggled with the “formulaic” prayers at times, but at other rocky moments they have been all I could cling to. The history and tradition of the Our Father, for example, gives it depth of meaning that my own words, fitting though they be for my experience of the moment, lack. I think we need both: words of others and words of our own. You voice this well.

  4. Oohhhh, I’ll have to check those out. Do you have a Mothers Manual? It’s a tiny, pocket sized book of catholic prayers that has very specific prayers for moms. It’s a treasure! And it does have the imprimatur which is lovely. Check it out!

    • I’ve never heard of it – thanks for the recommendation! I could collect prayer books like I collect blank journals if I had unlimited funds and storage space…that is to say, obsessively. :)

  5. I am a 43yo married mother of 3 children. 2 girls 13 & 10 and 1 son 2yr old. I work full time 40hr/wk. I have a very supportive & involved husband. So what’s stressing me??? Our lives our so busy with children’s activities, working rotating shifts & a lot of responsibility at work. I know I need to simplify my life and slow down. I just need prayerful guidance to find the strength to make the best changes in my life- for my whole family.

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