The Futility of Bedtime Prayers

by Maile on June 26, 2013

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According to the current routine in our household, every other night the responsibility of “tucking in” the kids falls upon my shoulders. While Shawn wipes off the kitchen counters and loads the dishwasher, I usher our four babes upstairs to do the required bedtime activities: blood-curdling screams and tantrum-throwing at the mention of pj’s and one last pee on the potty (that’s Sammy’s specialty), teeth brushing, and book reading.

I suppose there is some mother out there in the billions of people on this vastly diverse planet who enjoys bedtime; I am not that woman. I put on my big-girl panties and get the job done as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I speed through the teeth brushing with as much enthusiasm as a factory worker on an assembly line:

“Open up.”

(Scrub upper teeth, scrub bottom teeth, scrub front teeth)

“Take a drink, rinse, and spit. Next!!”

With hygiene and tantrums out of the way, we snuggle on the bed with the two allotted books we will read. My particular favorites are:

1. Anything with two sentences or less on each page

2. Anything “Berenstein Bear” (I know that goes in direct contradiction to my aforementioned preference, but I pick up some of my best parenting strategies from Mama Bear; the lady has the wisdom of Solomon)

The books I specifically dislike are:

1. The Princess Storybook Collection (Reading 15 pages of Snow White having a surprise picnic with the Seven Dwarves is a certified form of torture; this story could be over and done with in about 3 sentences, and I’m being generous with that estimation.)

2. Charlie at the Zoo (It’s pretty much a whole semester’s worth of life science lessons in a children’s storybook, and for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I find Charlie particularly annoying.)

But because reading time is their “last request” of the night, I acquiesce to whatever books are placed before me. After the final sentence is read, they scurry to their assigned beds and wriggle under their covers like over-eager puppies. And that’s when we hit what I consider the most difficult part of the routine: bedtime prayers.

I used to speed through this last portion of the evening like a runner with the finish line in sight; I gave it the old, “Thank you, Lord, for this day and please give our babes a wonderful night’s sleep and keep them safe. Amen.”

But then I started to think about what I was saying. I began to really look at the example I was setting and it added up to this: I was teaching my children that prayer was rote and self-absorbed. The only reason I even said a prayer with them was because that’s what good Christian parents are supposed to do, right?

So for a while I just skipped the whole thing. I went straight from books to lights out or the occasional off-key verse of “Jesus Loves Me”. But then the requests for bedtime prayers began to pop up.

“Mama, could you please say a bedtime prayer for us?” Lucy would ask as she snuggled her tattered, smelly bunny against her chest. You can’t say no to that; it’s physically impossible. I was tempted to snap back into the old routine, mumbling something quick and meaningless that wouldn’t float past the ceiling, but my spirit felt so uneasy with that. So I began praying for the poor instead of praying for our protection; I began asking for God to reveal His character to our children rather than give them a good night’s rest.

And now we’ve moved on to prayer requests. Lucy usually wants prayer for her mosquito bites while Abra requests prayer for Grandma Smucker (who is dead and in heaven so we usually just ask God to say “hi” to her for us). Every time I ask Sammy if he has something he would like for me to pray about, he always mumbles (with his thumb in his mouth), “Jesus on the cross.” I’m really not sure where to go with that one since the deed is already done, so we just thank Jesus for dying on the cross. And Cade usually gives a cheerful, “I’m good” or occasionally brings out the heart-breaker, “Let’s pray for Ruby.” (Ruby is the baby I miscarried last year and who has left an indelible impression on her siblings.)

Suddenly, that time that I most dreaded now has a sacredness to it, like my children and I are actually talking with God, not just tossing a few words in the air and hoping they make it up to heaven, or even worse, not really caring if they do. What before was just a religious practice now has life in it. I see where my children and I can move forward in our understanding of prayer and have meaningful conversations about how and when prayer works. Most of all, I’m challenged to hold my own personal prayer time to a different standard, to accept the challenge that David extended in Psalm 145:18:

“God’s there, listening for all who pray, for all who pray and mean it.” (Italics mine.)

Because let’s be honest, is prayer even prayer if we don’t mean it?

What’s your approach to bedtime prayers with your children?

On the topic of prayer in general, how do you “mean it” during your time with God?

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