Prayer Advice That Doesn’t Work For Parents

29 Jan

Back in high school, I was debating whether I should take calculus during my senior year. I hated math, but lcalculusoved my grade point average – and high-level math courses offered a good way, in theory at least, to keep it up.

“What do you think?” I asked a teacher who had watched me struggle through Algebra II, where I once scored a 21 percent on one of his quizzes.

“What do you think?” he asked with a chuckle, no doubt recalling that quiz.

“Well, I got a B in trig, and Mr. Berger thinks I should take calculus,” I told him.

Mr. Berger had chaired the math department since the conclusion of the Civil War. Still, he had a real talent for connecting with kids decades younger than him and, most of all, a burning belief that you could never learn enough math.

“Oh, c’mon, of course Berger thinks you should take it!” my teacher nearly yelled. “He’s totally biased. He thinks monkeys should take calculus!”

I thought of this conversation recently while reading a passage by Fr. Thomas Keating, whose book of daily spiritual reflections is now required reading in my house. Fr. Keating pioneered “centering prayer,” a meditative, Eastern style of prayer in which you try to empty your mind of all thoughts and create deep interior silence. The goal is to build the spiritual reservoir we need to live an active, grounded life in the real world.

That’s exactly what I’m looking for.

There’s only one problem: Fr. Keating never had a family.

How do I know that, apart from that fact that he’s a longtime Catholic priest?

Because of statements like this, as he describes the importance of centering twice a day for 20-30 minutes:

“To find time for a second period later in the day may require special effort. If you have to be available to your family as soon as you walk in the door, you might center during your lunch hour. Or you might stop on the way home from work and center in a church or park. If it is impossible to get a second period of prayer in, it is important that you lengthen the first one.”

As I documented last week, mornings in my house are not exactly contemplative. Trying to squeeze in a lengthened prayer session of 40 or so minutes  would mean getting up around 5:30. And every time I do that for more than a few days, I fall behind on sleep and get sick. Upon returning home from work in the afternoons, I’m greeted by a 10-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl, a three-month-old miniature schnauzer and a wife who has been managing all of them in addition to running her own business.

Would it be a good idea at this crazy dinner hour to mosey over to a church or sequester myself upstairs in the home office for half an hour?

To paraphrase my algebra teacher, you tell me.

So, much as I remain intrigued by centering prayer, I won’t be steeping myself in it anytime soon. Instead, I might try to center once a day for 10 minutes. Fr. Keating would probably say that’s not much better than doing nothing, but, like Mr. Berger, he’s maybe a little too close to his own material.

What we really need is a realistic spiritual approach for people with hectic lives, and it needs to be created by people with experience in hectic living. That’s something we can sort out here together on this blog. I look forward to and, in fact, very much need your input on styles of prayer that work for you.

I did end up taking calculus by the way – and earned a ‘C’ for the year. That didn’t help much with my grade point average, but it did teach me a couple things. It’s a pleasure to learn from people who are really passionate about what they do. And for that very same reason, their advice doesn’t work for everybody.



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6 Responses to “Prayer Advice That Doesn’t Work For Parents”

  1. Mary Jo Sutton January 30, 2015 at 7:52 am #

    Loved the point you’re making & have lived on both sides of the fence. I have raised children and after their departure found hard earned time available for a prayer life, a pilgrimage to Medjugore, and lots of travel w. my husband in the U.S. and abroad. Wow, it seemed as all the hard work had paid off and now we were living the good life.

    Until . . . this past Christmas — 2014. Suddenly our 25 year old daughter was forced to move back in with us and was diagnosed with a mental illness. A week later we unexpectedly were asked to open our home to a 9 year old who found herself homeless. Our world has been turned upside down. We now find ourselves thrust back into the world of parenting, school, caretaking, etc. etc. Last year at this time we were on vacation while finalizing an upcoming trip to Italy. I went from ample time for reflection, prayer, journaling, etc. to seemingly no time available for any of the aforementioned luxuries. And such is life!

    How could this happen?? Now, my prayer life is to beg God to simply make it through the day. My one time centering prayer has now turned into hoping I can stand erect by the end of the day. My husband and I no longer have the energy we once did in our younger child rearing days. But for some reason, I KNOW in my heart God has called us forth to do this work. Every day, hour, sometimes, minute at a time I am praying and pleading w. God to guide my every step, literally and figuratively. We are on display in a very different way to be role models and to serve Him. We are mandated to be examples of hope, love, and charity all of which God so graciously and abundantly has given us.

    Everything you and your wife are doing for each other and your children is faith in action. Whether you’re telling your children for the 10th time to pick up their toys or tripping over them, centering for 3 seconds or 30 it’s all sacred, and holy, and good. You’re in Calculus class again, but now you’re an adult. Mr. Berger thinks you should take it again. After all, you’re older now and he thinks you’ve got what it takes now to get a B.

    If you’re reading this right now it’s Friday and means you made it through another week of holding a job, being a husband and serving as a father. Congratulations and thank God. BAM!! There’s your prayer.
    Your wife, your kids, someone at work may have annoyed you, hurt your feelings, or was ungrateful. BAM!! You didn’t go off on them, (or maybe you did). But you didn’t kill them. Thank God!! BAM!! There’s your prayer.
    You may feel tired or you’re not doing something enough or the right way and turned to God for help. Or you may have a good day and feel grateful or happy and say, “Thank you God. I needed that.” BAM!! There’s your prayer.

    Lighten up and cut yourself a break. Calculus and parenting ain’t for sissies. Life is one long Calculus class for big people. Sometimes I wake up knowing I acted like a monkey and didn’t even score a 21. Sometimes I resemble a human and earn a B or a C for the day. But at night I get an A, bec. no matter what I know I am a lucky and loved child of God. My Catholic faith has convinced me over many years that He is guiding my every step and loves me so much His heart aches. Some days are better than others. I’m just down here trying to honor Him the best way I know how to. I never cared or wanted an A in Calculus class, esp. at this age. But apparently somebody decided to wrap it up as a Christmas gift I never asked for this past year. When I lose my way I right the ship through Mass, the sacraments, and prayer in whatever way or moment that is afforded me at the time. You are blessed. You are gifted. You are giving all you got, and God is running the show. We’re all on a “wing and a prayer” despite our status as a Senior in high school or a Senior citizen, or whether our name is Fr. Keating or Stephen Martin, father and husband. Your journey has been customized and gift wrapped for you by God. Your prayer life is a means by which you remind yourself who is really in control and your return gift to honor HIM, THE DIRECTOR.

    Break A Leg!
    Mary Jo Sutton

    P.S. Don’t worry about that 20-30 min. thing twice a day. I hear God stopped wearing a watch a long time ago. :)

    • Stephen February 2, 2015 at 2:10 am #

      Wow, Mary Jo — what a comment! Your thoughts are always appreciated here and so is your faith, candor and refreshing sense of humor in the face of tough challenges. Thanks for updating us on your journey and the remarkable turns it has taken over the past year. I need to take some time to sort through and digest your insights here. Lots of very valuable and hard-earned wisdom. In the meantime, keeping you and your family in my prayers. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Erin January 30, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    Stephen, I agree whole heartedly with Mary Jo!!! You are doing a great job! You are a blessing to your family. I don’t take long periods of time to pray, but I do try to talk to Him all day long. Just ask Him to guide your every step, and He will. I think you’re already doing that.

    Mary Jo, I will be praying for you and your husband. God Bless you both for all you’re doing!

    • Stephen February 2, 2015 at 2:17 am #

      Erin, we’re in the same boat with young families and also apparently praying the same way. Much appreciate you sharing your own approach; it’s always helpful to learn these things. I think our grandmother would approve, right?

  3. Andrea January 31, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    Thanks for sharing both sides of the issue. I hear what Mary Jo is saying — about just using daily life as a prayer itself, and knowing sometimes that’s all you can manage. But I also know that life really changes when you have regular times of peace and quiet to pray/meditate. I think when we are in crisis mode, as Mary Jo mentions, the only thing we CAN do is pray through each moment. But ideally — for OURSELVES and not necessarily because we “should” — we would also have time set aside for those blessed, quiet moments of prayer and reflection. Not easy to do.

    • Stephen February 2, 2015 at 2:20 am #

      Andrea! Really glad to see you back here, and thanks for the good thoughts. You’re right — I’d still like to find a way to make space for some regular, extended prayer, if not for 30 minutes at a time. Still searching for the right approach. Hope all’s well with you and your family.

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