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 eventually decide the dreams are gone 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 kick.
Gentle at first, waking as I am, but soon more insistent: jabs, prods, pokes, flips and turns. I frown and squirm; we’ve reached the impossible-to-get-comfortable stage. Here come the hiccups, too. My stomach shifts and lurches before my eyes.
I forget about the morning litany waiting on the nightstand. Here is the prayer.
. . .
We laugh in low voices as he gets dressed for work. The 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 the journal and pray for a bit before they wake. I slip on warm socks for the cold winter floors downstairs and turn the knob on our bedroom door.
Then I find our oldest 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 is 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 quiet nap times and a chance to center in prayer. 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 the two small faces in front of me, watching me expectantly.
I take a deep breath and smile back at them. 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 two lively kids at my table.
I forget about the centering meditation. Here is the prayer.
. . .
Bath time always finds my energy at its lowest. Teasingly, bedtime is 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, and I imagine curling up on the couch with the dog burrowed at my feet and an inspiring 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. As the baby within me starts to kick again, startled by the sudden noise and laughter, I remember why I make the sacrifice of pregnancy in the first place: to bring this kind of life into the world.
I forget about the devotional reading 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 taking 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’ parting words of love in Matthew’s Gospel: 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 more minutes in the rocker, snuggling my youngest. His head of damp curls tucks right under my chin as he leans back on my chest, and I savor the sweetness of toddlerhood as we rock gently. In the dim glow of the nightlight, his pudgy fingers float up to trace my hair and 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. Here is the prayer.
This essay was originally posted on this site in 2014.