One of the many hats I wear is “homeschool mama”. My kids are 4 and 7, and one of the things I take very seriously in our home education is discipleship and teaching them about our faith in a way that’s accessible to them. They haven’t spent much time in a formal church or Sunday school setting lately (the pandemic regulations for us didn’t allow children in church for nearly 18 months), so it’s been surprising to me how quickly I’ve observed them regurgitating the “Sunday school answers” to all my questions. “Jesus.” “Read the Bible”. “Pray”. I guess they are getting that from me?
Lately, we’ve been teaching them about the importance of spending time with the Lord each day. They have their own baskets of age-appropriate books and a Bible, and we encourage them to spend time reading those and praying in the morning. “Well, what do we pray for? How do I do that?”
There are, of course, great resources for teaching children how to pray. But the question honestly made me re-examine my own prayer life, and how I relate to God each day. I realized it wasn’t really how I thought I would…
Not surprisingly, life has felt heavy lately. I doubt I’m alone in this feeling. Yes, pandemic and all that’s come after. Unbelievable global unrest and trauma. But also, my mother’s cancer diagnosis. A season of rapid growth, both in our ministry, business, and personal lives, that’s left us extremely busy. Ongoing visa issues. A season of chaos, grief, uncertainty, confusion, and overwhelm has settled over our home like a thick fog.
I’ve found, as my life has ebbed and flowed in and out of seasons of heaviness like this current one, that my prayer life shape shifts along with my circumstances. And it’s a beautiful thing! Christ prayed all kinds of prayers during his life. He meets us in all of these places.
For me, when the burdens feel heavy, long sessions of grateful journaling might be replaced by anxious prayers under my breath. Praying to worship music becomes a prayer of “help my unbelief” rather than a singing of truth. I vacillate somewhere between desperation and total withdrawal and disconnection.
But more often, when life feels overwhelming, the words to pray simply fail to come. I’m a writer, so this is usually a red flag for me. But I’ve realized over the years that I can rely on the words and wisdom of others to carry me through, and give words to my heart when I can’t find them myself.
What does that look like?
I collect books of written prayers. Often, they are organized by theme. When I find myself with a particular burden or feeling that I also find I can’t articulate, I go to these books and I seek the words of another who has gone before. Particularly in my mom’s cancer diagnosis, this has been a tremendous comfort. But just this morning, I found myself pawing through a prayer book, looking for a prayer to ease the burden of heaviness I found myself carrying.
I also seek out and follow writers who create content to this end. Instagram accounts such as Liturgies for a Life Abroad, Liturgies for Parents, Little Way Chapel, and many others provide beautiful prayers for very specific moments and feelings, and they have been a gift to me (and many of us!)
One of the most healing and centering practices of prayer (and meditation, in this case) that I’ve adopted in the last few years is breath prayer. In this practice, you simply choose a word or short phrase to repeat in your inhales and exhales. This can be done formally, with candles and spa music, or it can be done in traffic or at immigration or during a bucket bath or as you cook dinner by candlelight.
One of my favorites:
INHALE: “Take my burdens”
EXHALE: “Leave me your peace”
Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve realized, and what I want to teach my children, is that there truly isn’t a right or wrong way to pray. Yes, there are cute acronyms and the Lord’s Prayer is a beautiful guide, but when it comes down to it, He hears my desperate prayer for the power to kick back in and turn my fan back on when I’m sleeping, just as He hears an eloquently written liturgy, just as He hears pages poured into my journal over the life of my kids. He is present in all of it, and He sees us in each moment.
If your prayer life looks different in a new season, take heart. Christ meets you there. He has given us tools to find words when our hearts feel lost. He comforts us even as we breathe simple words. Bring your heart to Him, in whatever way you can, and feel His presence as you do.
Some of my favorite prayer books:
What tools are currently encouraging you as you pray? How is your prayer life in this season?