Maybe you know this scenario: It’s 8:30pm on a school night. You’re just getting the last kid into bed. She’s exactly 30 minutes past her usual bedtime, she’s already had a solid 30 minutes to read and her mother is solidly ready for lights-out so that she can plop onto the couch with some Fritos and bean dip and the latest episode of Madam Secretary.
“Mom I really want to spend a little time doing a devotional and praying.”
Now, mind you, the last time said child opened her journal to write down a prayer was in April of 2014. We know this because she dated her last entry.
I sigh deeply, at once feeling guilty about the fact that my daughter hasn’t written journal-prayers in 2 years, touched that she wants to crack open that journal, and…to be perfectly frank…impatient for my kid-free time with Hulu and Fritos.
I consciously and deliberately will myself to set aside my desire to be “off duty” for the night, and encourage the prayer time. We read a quote at the top of her journal page, about praying that our hearts would be broken for the things that break God’s heart. And in the next five minutes I marvel at my 10 year old reflecting on all of the issues in the world and in her own back yard that must break God’s heart.
War. People who go hungry. People without homes. When kids get bullied. When she and her brother argue and fight and say hurtful things. People who don’t know Jesus.
She puts her pen to the paper and carefully writes her prayer.
Five minutes was all it took. Five minutes to connect with my daughter and commune with our God. Mind you, we pray every night before bed, but if I’m being totally honest, there are many nights when I’m tired and unfocused and just ready to turn the lights out on the day, and praying is just another thing to check off of the bedtime routine.
Do you ever feel this way, parents? Please tell me you do! Please tell me that you too feel the impatient rush to usher everyone off to sleep so you can indulge your guilty pleasures or enjoy some grown-up conversation with your spouse. Please tell me that you too fall out of good habits and disciplines, and sheepishly notice that the last dated entry on the spiritual formation notebook was woefully long ago.
There are fruitful seasons and fallow seasons. There are nights when we are present and available and eager to share and listen and guide and encourage. And there are nights when we just want the couch and a swift countdown to lights out. Thanks be to God that faith formation isn’t limited to bedtime when we’re all tired and cranky!
A moment to offer thanks for a beautiful Spring day, or compliment a kindness offered to a sibling; acknowledging a harsh word and being quick to ask for forgiveness; asking about a child’s day at school and actively listening to their stories and frustrations, struggles and joys; giving the gift of an extra five minutes to reflect on the ways of God and write a journal-prayer…even if it is 30 minutes past bedtime
On my better days, when I graciously welcome the lengthening of bedtime or the chance to break from the routine in favor of dwelling on the questions and wonderings of my children, I am always, always thankful for the gift. And on days when my patience is thin and I’m walking through a spiritually dry season myself, I am so grateful for communities like my church family and Practicing Families, where we can share the raw stuff of parenting and know that we’re not alone in the journey.
As it is for every person in their walk with God, tending the spiritual lives of our children happens over the long haul. And thanks be to God, it happens best in the nurturing company of others. I can’t say I won’t hop downstairs with a gleeful little spring in my step the minute my kids are tucked in and I get to go have some grown-up time with my husband…after all, that time is just as precious. But a few extra minutes with my daughter and her prayer journal reminded me that it doesn’t take long to reframe a day and draw near to God together. And over the long haul, those small but consistent practices will provide far more refreshment and bear much more fruit than an extra five minutes on the couch.
Kelly Pittman is an ordained minister in the PC(USA). She shares life and ministry with her husband, two young children, and a wonderful church family in Southeastern Michigan.