I stir in the dark before dawn. Black trees outlined through our windows slowly sharpen into focus as the sky lightens into blue behind them. I slip between sleep and waking, but reluctantly leave the dreams behind for good. I think of turning towards the prayer book on the nightstand and resting my eyes on a morning psalm.
Then the baby starts to rouse.
Gentle at first, waking as I am, but soon more insistent, his coos rising to cries on the monitor. I slide out from under the warm comforter and pad down the hall to scoop him up, snuggling his fleece covered limbs into the curl of my chest. All I can see in the dim nursery light is his smile.
I forget about the morning litany waiting back on my nightstand. Here is the prayer.
. . .
We laugh in low voices as he get dressed for work. The big kids are still sleeping, and as I splash my face with warm water, I contemplate the sweet prospect of a quiet kitchen and a hot cup of tea. Maybe I could pull out my journal and write for a bit before they wake. I slip on thick wool socks for the cold winter floors downstairs and turn the knob on our bedroom door.
Then I find a small boy waiting right outside, gazing up at me with wide eyes.
I sink to my knees and without a word he folds himself into my lap, clutching his beloved stuffed animal to his chest. We snuggle in the silence for a few minutes, and then he whispers, “Mama, sing ‘Morning Has Broken.’”
I forget about the journal downstairs. Here is the prayer.
. . .
The morning tumbles headlong into a cacophony of kid sounds: laughter and whining and cries and squeals. So many questions and complaints and requests to help, to watch, to get, to come here please.
My head is spinning by noon, and I’m dreaming of naptime quiet and a chance to center my thoughts. I serve their lunch plates piled high with favorite food, and as I sink into my own chair, I’m tempted to tune out while they eat.
Then I see their small faces in front of me, watching me expectantly.
I take a deep breath and smile back. I lean my elbows onto the table and ask them each what they want to do after nap. Soon we’re sharing silly rhymes and they’re teasing each other with nicknames. We share cookies after plates are cleaned, and I give silent thanks for the gift of lively kids at my table.
I forget about the centering meditation. Here is the prayer.
. . .
Bathtime always finds my energy at its lowest. Bedtime is teasing, just around the corner, but there are faces to wash and teeth to brush and nails to clip and pajamas to tug on tiny feet.
I pray for patience as I wrangle the wriggling, giggling boys into the bath. I can almost taste the freedom that comes with closing the last bedroom door. I imagine curling up on the couch with the warm dog burrowed at my feet and a good book to lift my thoughts.
Then they start to splash each other with shouts and smiles.
I can’t help but laugh at their simple delights. The water splatters the walls and soaks my jeans, but their mischievous grins make it all worth it. I remember that this was what we wanted all along – a house brimming with life and laughter.
I forget about the devotional downstairs. Here is the prayer.
. . .
Maybe the secret to prayer with small children is not memorizing the Our Father or teaching them grace before meals or pulling them to church on Sunday.
Maybe prayer is about abiding. About presence. About seeing God in small moments.
The promise we make to our children echoes Jesus’ words of love: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.
Maybe the prayer we teach them – the practice of God’s presence that we hope will sustain their lives – can be exactly this, too.
Prayer as beholding. Prayer as presence. Prayer as promise.
. . .
After books and lullabies and God-bless-everyone, I linger a few last minutes in the rocking chair with the baby who woke up just as the older two were winding down. His tiny head tucks under my chin as we rock gently, and I savor the sweetness of a baby in my arms. In the dim glow of the nightlight, his pudgy fingers float up to trace my hair. He turns to me with dark eyes smiling.
Finally I glimpse the whole truth, the God-soaked-ness of each moment with them today.
Finally I am here. God is here, too. Here is the prayer.
A version of this reflection originally appeared at Practicing Families.