prayers for parents
. . .
The Lord, your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he acted with you before your very eyes in Egypt, as well as in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord, your God, carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey until you arrived at this place.
Notice your habits of holding your baby. Is your back arched? Are your shoulders slumped? Your wrists aching? Each time you pick up baby today, be mindful of the way you carry him or her. Make small adjustments to relieve the tension in your body.
Pray to God for the strength to carry your child throughout their life, not only when they are small enough to carry, but as they grow into adulthood.
Ask for the wisdom to know when and how to shift the way you hold your child, whether in your arms or in your heart.
. . .
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.
When your baby finally closes eyes to sleep today, let yourself lie down and rest for a few minutes.
Even if you have ten thousand other things you should be doing, even if the sink is overflowing with dishes, even if your older kids are running wild downstairs, even if you don’t have time for a real nap, simply let yourself rest and breathe deeply for several good minutes.
Take a Sabbath break in the middle of newborn time which follows no schedule. Allow your thoughts to settle and your love to rise.
Honor your body’s need to rest as a sign of strength, not weakness. Let yourself remember that it is not up to you to do it all. Delight in the truth that God’s ways, not yours, are ultimate.
. . .
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
Go outside on a clear night and look up at the stars. Remember how small your life is – your worries, your problems, and your fears – when seen against the vast universe above you. Give thanks to God who created the heavens and the earth.
Go inside and watch your baby sleep. Remember how big your life is – your joys, your loves, and your gifts – when compared to the tiny child before you. Give thanks to God who created this unique life and all its potential.
. . .
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:2-3, 5b
When your baby’s screaming reaches ear-splitting levels, take a deep breath and think of all those throughout the world who are crying out in pain and fear and sadness right now – victims of violence, war, and abuse.
Try to imagine what it must be like for God to hear all these cries at this very moment. Pray for your heart to be opened to the cries around you.
. . .
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
When your baby wails and wails, in the middle of the night or for hours in the afternoon, remember all the babies whose cries will go un-comforted today.
Pray for babies who are abandoned, abused, or neglected. Pray for children who lack food, water, shelter or safety.
. . .
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Make a mental list of all the people who have helped you through pregnancy, birth, and life with a new baby. Family, friends, doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, moms’ groups, or babysitters. People nearby who helped in everyday ways and people who supported you through thoughts and prayers from afar.
Each time you feel overwhelmed during the day by how much you have to do to care for baby, remember one of the people who has helped you. Give thanks to God for their generosity and thoughtfulness.
Imagine how you might be able to help someone else in their time of need – even and especially with your prayers while your hands are full.
. . .
Next time: how to pray with baby – in peaceful moments!
Continuing with the practical side of spiritual practices with newborns, here is the 2nd in this series of simple ways to pray while caring for a baby: all day long, up all night, in fussy moments, and in peaceful moments.
. . .
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I put my hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before each watch of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
Psalm 119: 147-148
Next time you are up with baby at 2:00 am (or 3:00 am, or 4:00 am – or all 3!), think of all those who are also awake at this late hour: employees working the third shift, tired parents tending to sick children, monks and nuns praying the hours.
Pray in solidarity with those who work while others sleep. Pray in thanksgiving to God who is always present, watchful and waiting.
. . .
… I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
As you rock back and forth with your baby, let the rhythm set the pace for your prayer.
Meditate on a two-part prayer that matches your movement forward and back.
A-men. Je-sus. Yah-weh.
Or choose the four-part cadence of the ancient Jesus Prayer:
Jesus Christ / Son of God / Have mercy on me / A sinner.
As you connect with your rhythm and breath and baby, let yourself be lulled and comforted as you quiet your own soul within you.
. . .
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Whenever you wrap your baby in soft blankets to keep her warm or tight swaddlers to help him sleep, think of Mary wrapping her newborn child in love and warmth. Ask for Mary’s guidance to love, protect, and care for your child.
. . .
But I will sing of your might;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been a fortress for me
and a refuge on the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.
Psalm 59: 16-17
When you sing to your baby, think of someone who sang favorite lullabies to you as a child: a parent, grandparent, older sibling or baby sitter.
Hold their love in mind as you repeat verse after verse. Give thanks to God for the small, simple ways we share love with each other.
And when you run out of ideas for songs to keep you awake while you help baby fall asleep, try a church hymn – an old classic from growing up or a new favorite from today.
Add your voice to the church’s song of praise to God, who is faithful in the morning, all day, and at night.
. . .
Tune in next time: how to pray with baby – in fussy moments!
First: a confession. The series on spiritual practices with newborns? Turned out nothing the way I expected. What I thought would be a practical guide turned into my philosophical wanderings as I processed this summer. Great for me, maybe less for all you new parents who told me you were excited for the series. Thanks for reading along anyway!
Second: an inspiration. All those practices I wrote (and rambled) about? Still wonderful ways to pray when you have a new baby in your life. For those of you drowning in diapers and midnight feedings, I’ve compiled a list of short Scripture verses and quick prayer practices that you can do while caring for baby.
All day long. Up all night. For fussy moments. For peaceful moments.
. . .
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The next time you’re tempted to check the clock when feeding the baby – how long has it been since he last took a bottle? how long have I been sitting here nursing her? – close your eyes instead and give thanks for all the good meals you have enjoyed in your life. Thanksgivings, Christmases, date nights, nights out with friends, family dinners at home.
Pray for someone with whom you shared a memorable meal. Pray for you and your child to nurture generous hearts to share with those who are hungry. Pray in gratitude to God who feeds you.
. . .
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Each time you clean up after your child today – diaper change, bath-time, spit-up, wet crib sheets or worse! – offer up a petition for their future.
May they always know love. May they always be surrounded by people who care for them. May they always grow in the ways they care for others.
. . .
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.
When your baby gets hurt – from shots or diaper rashes or bug bites or scratches – remember that your role as a parent is not always to protect them from every harm, but to help them handle life’s bumps and heal from life’s wounds. Humbly ask God for the strength and wisdom to love like this.
Each time you try to soothe your screaming newborn, hold in mind one way that they may need to heal from hurts as they grow: rejections by cliques and crushes, disappointments in sports or extracurriculars, academic failures, high school heartbreaks, challenges in college, professional and personal setbacks.
Ask God to guide your child through the journeys of hurting and healing that lead into adulthood. Pray for resilience and forgiveness for both you and your baby.
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Tune in next time: how to pray with baby – up all night!
There’s the hospital bag, of course. Pre-registration paperwork. The Kegels you’re supposed to be practicing ten times a day. Delivery room playlist on the iPod. Deep breathing exercises. Child care arrangements for your other kids. Out-of-office email reply waiting and set to maternity leave.
But does any of that really prepare you for labor and birth?
Maybe I’m lazier this time around. (Ok, assuredly I’m lazier this time around.) But I can’t bring myself to motivate for so many pre-baby preparations that have typically consumed my thoughts by this point in previous pregnancies: cleaning and nesting, stockpiling frozen meals, setting up the baby gear, washing tiny onesies and newborn diapers.
Now whenever I get a free minute? I mostly want to sleep.
And instead of pouring over childbirth preparation books or crafting the perfect birth plan to hand to the nurses upon arrival at the hospital, I find myself shrugging whenever I think about Delivery-Day. It will come, it will be unexpected, it will be hard. And then it will be over and our baby will be here.
But just as I might have missed the opportunity for deeper reflection upon birth’s meaning the first time around when I was nothing but scared, I don’t want to miss the chance to explore the spiritual side of this huge transition simply because it’s my third time through.
Whether unknown or known, childbirth is a defining moment of a mother’s life. And I believe it is one of the “thin places” between heaven and earth.
So I’m wondering how to ready myself this time. How prayer can be part of the pain. How meditation can be part of my mindfulness. How each contraction can remind me that Christ is within me and beside me and before me.
I’ve already gathered a trinity of prayers for labor and birth. But as Lent surrounds me in the last months before baby arrives, I also find myself thinking about simplicity and surrender. How to let go of any lingering expectations and free myself to enter into whatever God has prepared.
In my latest piece for Catholic Mom, I wrote about the journey from feeling terrified at the prospect of birth to finding peace in what will be a painful but powerful day of discovery:
I’m starting to see the spiritual side of birth in ways that I never would have dreamed when I headed to Labor & Delivery for the first time. Birth as beginning, birth as sacrifice, birth as rite of passage – God is intimately wrapped up in all these ways we understand this work that women do to bring life into the world.
Being intentional about this process – a sort of sacramental preparation – has helped me to bring hope, not fear, to the prospect of bringing another baby into the world.
Lots of ink gets spilled in parenting manuals and glossy magazines about birth plans, birth preparations, even identifying your health care provider’s “birth philosophy.” But approaching a spirituality of birth invites those of us who carry new life within us – as well as those who love and care for us – to view this work as prayer and to place our trust in God who accompanies us from the first contraction to the final push.
Read the rest at CatholicMom.com…
And next week I’ll have the chance to enter intentionally into this deeper reflection, thanks to Peg Conway’s retreat on the spirituality of birth. Nell of Whole Parenting Family and I conspired to bring Peg to the Twin Cities (since both of us are now expecting #3!), and I can’t wait for this afternoon of exploring the prayerful parts of this sacred journey.
If you’re local and want to join us, please find more information on Facebook or at Enlightened Mama in St. Paul, MN, where the retreat will be held. And if you’re too far away to spend Saturday, March 22nd, with us, check out Peg’s wonderful book – Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth.
Have you ever noticed that young children’s timing is absolutely perfect – for them and only them?
Case in point: they only want to put on their own shoes/coat/mittens when we’re already running 10 minutes late.
See also: they realize they are, in fact, capable of recognizing their own need for the potty when we’re in the middle of driving/dinner/Target/bedtime/church.
Otherwise known as: their internal clocks continue to rouse them right on time, regardless of what daylight savings says.
Case in point: my toddler now makes a pitiful plea for his bedtime prayer routine to PLEASE be repeated at naptime (when I used to get away with only a quick story-and-song before skipping out the door for blessed quiet to myself).
See also: the mornings we’re rushing to get out the door to school are the ONLY days that my boys ever insist on saying grace, rather than having me instigate the burdening of their every mealtime with my unbearable requests for them to give God thanks.
Otherwise known as: my preschooler inevitably makes his charming request for “meditation AND a Psalm AND OurFatherandHailMary” on the nights when their shrieking bathtime splash-fest soaks up every last precious ounce of energy and all I want to do is rush through bedtime to collapse on the couch.
Every time, the tired/selfish/cop-out words almost trip tempting off my tongue: no, we don’t do prayer at naptime! no, we don’t have time for grace this morning! no, I am too tired to do meditation!
But inevitably, something stops me – whether that stubborn MDiv, or the years I’ve spent trying to develop my own prayer life, or plain old-fashioned nagging Catholic guilt. Whatever it is, I catch the words and cough them back down my throat and try to ignore the clock/exhaustion/aggravation. Deep breath, refocus, slow down.
Of course we can pray. Even now.
I won’t saintly sugarcoat it to say I’m always glad we do. Sometimes I would still rather have gotten out the door 2 minutes earlier or collapsed on the couch 10 minutes sooner. But beyond any momentary annoyance, I’m always reminded where I want the long arc of our family life to bend: towards prayer, towards peaceful rhythms, towards the God who pulls us back together.
Tonight I’m posting about our bedtime psalm-praying at Practicing Families. My oldest and I started praying this way a long time ago, and I have come to love how meaningful this simple, slowing, centering line of Scripture becomes for both of us.
(Even on the evenings I’m fairly itching to close the bedroom door behind me and be done for the day.)
Every night as we go, no matter how antsy I am for bedtime to be done and my few precious hours sans-kids to begin, I always find that one phrase will inevitably catch me and do just what the psalmist says: slow me down and remind me that God is God.
Make no mistake about it: he wiggles and giggles the whole way through. Months and months of reciting the ancient centering prayer has not magically transformer my preschooler into a patient monk.
But he knows the words by heart, forward and back, inside and out. The Sunday we sang the same psalm at church and his eyes shot up, astonished that everyone else knew his prayer, too? That was one of the rare moments I tucked away to remember for always.
These words have become so close to him, already in his mouth and in his heart. Now all he has to do is learn how to live them.
All I can tell him is that it takes a lifetime.
Read the rest at Practicing Families…
When and how do you love to pray with the kids in your life? (Even if it sometimes drives you crazy, too?)
God of Ash Wednesday, whose hands first gathered dust to create us, whose Spirit breathed new life into brittle bones, whose fingers traced the sand to save a sinner, take the dirt of my life - the tempers lost, the doors slammed, the complaints muttered, the harsh words thrown, the dark doubts seethed - take all these flaws and failings and burn them blazing in the fire of forgiveness. Gather the dust that lingers, the ashes streaked across your healing hands, and trace the ancient cross once again across my forehead. Press its humbling love deep into my mind and heart, let it sink into my soul reminding me that life is fleeting as the dark grey dust. And when I see the same stark sign of sin and death marked on the soft faces of my children, let me breathe in the beauty of now, this present we have together, this gift of a life shared no matter how dark or dry it sometimes seems. Let the touch of another's hand on my bowed head remind me of resurrection, of hope and promise that we are mere dust and yet more - beloved in your eyes, our chins cupped in your hands with a parent's loving touch, our faces traced by the same fingers that forever bear the prints of every ashen life they touch. Amen.
Laundry round here is eternal.
Diapers, dirty dishclothes, daily heaps of socks and shirts and pants and bibs and towels. It piles up in towering heaps overnight, and just when I slam the dryer door shut with a satisfying thwack and declare it tackled, I turn to find my boys covered in marker or yogurt or (worst) mysterious unknowns.
I sigh, strip them down, fill the tired barrel of the washer once more, and set it again to spin.
Laundry without ceasing.
. . .
I have a handful of friends who are pregnant, most of them expecting number three or four, none of them amateurs at gestation but all of their hands and hearts already full to the brimming. I’ve promised them prayers, dip into their days with a quick email to inquire how they’re doing, but it never feels enough, not when I know how dark and depressing and downright overwhelming the burden of bearing baby can be. I wonder what more I can do, especially for the far-flung friends, the dear ones far across the country that I can’t surprise with a casserole and a hug and a how are you really doing?
What can any of us do to help carry the load?
Of course it’s prayer, I know that’s the answer, but it seems so small and trite sometimes. An easy promise to hold up, to keep in mind, to whisper good thoughts and happy hopes to smooth the way. I’m still learning, slowly, stumblingly, what I believe about prayer, but I’m quite sure it’s nothing like the power of positive thinking or the secret that stops the universe to grant my heart’s desire. If prayer is about bending myself to the way of Christ, allowing myself to be changed, humbling myself back into the heart of the divine, what does it mean to carry other’s intentions with me as I go?
I’m still not sure.
But I do know one thing: prayer reminds. Even when it may not help or heal, it reminds.
. . .
I pause from the pile of laundry to read a favorite blog, clicking through the pages as I ignore the clothes around me on the couch, half stacked in neat piles of designated owner, half still strewn in a messy dump from the dryer. When I stumble upon the simple post about praxis of prayer, a tangible mindfulness of uniting intention with the everyday, the idea falls into my lap like a soft jumble of small socks:
I’ll carry my laundry for them.
How many times a day do I bend to grab the plastic handles of the bulky baskets, lug them up and down stairs, stagger them around corners, fill them to the back-breaking brim? How many times a day could I easily remember those expecting, each one of my friends who carry something much weightier and more wonderful than even clean laundry? What difference might it make – for them, for me – if I slowed to remember when I stooped to carry again?
The more I muse, the more laundry I fold, the more it seems right. This is how prayer becomes incarnate: in everyday actions.
. . .
Laundry seems endless in these early years: the late-night laundry, the soaked and stained laundry, the kid clothes and grown-up clothes all tumbling together in the dryer. Pregnancy can feel like that, too: endless and oh-so-bodily. Good work, necessary work, but so tiring, so cumbersome, so overwhelming.
I remember at the end of my pregnancies when my husband rushed to grab the basket out of my hands before I lugged it up or down the stairs, balanced on my basketball of a belly. Let me help! he’d say with exasperation. Let me carry that – you’ve already got enough.
I’d laugh to myself (what did he think I did while he was gone all day?) but without protest I let him help. Let him carry the load. Let myself rest for a moment and remember how much I was already carrying.
Maybe prayer’s like that, too: a willingness to carry and be carried.
To learn when to remember and when to rest in each other’s arms.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…
Christ, I’d be impressed if you made it past the driveway.
Cracks lined with weeds. Untrimmed hedges. A half-mowed lawn. Plastic children’s toys abandoned to bleach in the sun in that tacky way I swore I’d never let happen in my yard.
And if you did brave the front door, what would you greet you in the entry as you wiped your sandals on the mat?
A towering stack of unpacked boxes. (Yes, we moved in four months ago.) Two heaping laundry baskets, unsorted and unwashed. Three abandoned, unmatched shoes. Four weeks’ worth of Sunday papers, unread and unrecycled.
And me, standing sheepishly to the side, always apologizing for what’s undone.
…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Help me to breathe into what’s most important – that we who live here care about things like words and soul and healing.
Remind me that I’m called to keep up with Jesus, not the Joneses. That my work is to make a home, not a house. A home that will always be more messy than magazine.
Help me to see people unfolding and not projects undone. Help me to set aside ego and externals and endless to-do lists. Help me to embrace humility always and hospitality anyway. Help me to make a Christ room in my house and my heart.
And especially this week, as my partner in parenting leaves home to work on the other side of the globe, this week when all the child care and cooking and cleaning are left to me, help my work to be full of word and soul and healing. Full of you.
You, Lord, whose home was always full of people interrupting your work (even ripping off your roof to get inside),
who got exasperated with your family at times (and even lost your temper),
who understood how tempting it would always be for the world to seduce (and not the Word to sink in),
help me to seek and find you here. At home.
With dirty dishes in the sink and dog hair on the couch and Duplos all over the floor.
With gratitude for Fr. James Martin’s inspiration:
Sometimes I, too, get so frustrated with your church.
So much I love, so much I hold as true. But so much I struggle to understand.
I look into the bright eyes of my children, so young and trusting. I wonder what questions they will ask about our church. I wonder if they will see my staying as hypocritical. I wonder if they will choose to leave when times get tough.
I want to lead them into a life of faith, but sometimes the road seems so dark. Storm clouds are swirling above, and my light flickers so small below.
When I hear news that disheartens, help me not to despair. Let me remember that we have been struggling from the beginning with blindness and brokenness. But Your Spirit has always been blowing among us, strong and steady. Perk my ears to that small, still sound of hope.
When I’m tempted to shove those who disagree with me into neat boxes with easy labels, help me to look beyond divisions. To see Your face in each of theirs. To learn from the challenges they pose to my faith.
When friends tell me they’ve had enough – that they feel battered and bruised enough to leave – widen my heart to hold their hurt. Bend all our winding paths to you, no matter how far they roam. Remind us that You have always been bigger than our imagination and institutions.
And when I’m tempted to draw the line in the sand, to shout with tears in my eyes that if they push me one step farther I will leave too, pull me even closer to You and whisper words of peace. Remind me that You sent the life You loved most into this world – Your child – to preach peace and forgiveness and radical love. All of which is still vibrant and humming in Your church, no matter how far flung in corners it sometimes seems.
God of light, many people I love are calling this a dark time for the church. The pain on their faces, the anger in their voices, the sadness in their hearts – I share it, too. But I refuse to let go of my stubborn faith in resurrection. I refuse to leave a community that has been full of sinners from the beginning. I refuse to believe that I have it figured out on my own.
God of truth, I am deeply grateful for what this church has taught me. To defend life from its beginning. To work for justice for all. To celebrate sacramental moments. To find You in word and prayer and community and the poor.
When I think of all the gifts your church has given me, I am overwhelmed with love. But when I think of all the ways your church continues to fall short of striving towards Your kingdom, I am overwhelmed with sadness.
When I doubt, help my unbelief.
When I feel alone in my struggles, let me strengthened by all who came before me, who claimed the name of Catholic with fierce and faithful hearts.
And when I worry about how to raise my children, let the memory of their baptisms run deep in my heart. Let the echo of promises, the splash of water, the smear of oil and the spark of light remind me that a whole communion of saints promised to help me on this journey.
When I was younger and people would ask me how I could call myself Catholic in the face of scandals and failures and deep, deep sin, I would respond that I loved Your church like I loved any person in my life – as flawed and broken but beautiful and full of grace.
Now that I am a mother, I think perhaps I’m called to love Your church like my child. Not in a condescending way, but with eyes that see all its potential and promise. With a stubborn heart that loves despite the difficulties. With patience that forgives failure and never gives up on hope.
Help me, God. And help Your church.
Don’t give up on us, and don’t let us give up on each other.