When my husband and I decided to implement a bedtime routine for our son beyond “stick a bottle in his mouth until he closes his eyes,” I wrote down the simple, soothing activities on the whiteboard in our kitchen: A final drink of milk for the day, brushing his eight tiny teeth, changing into jammies, a few books. And finally, just before lights-out and a lullaby: prayer time.
That first night, we stood together in the nursery with me cradling our 10-month-old son. Over the wailing of our confused child, I awkwardly cleared my throat and realized that I had never led anyone in prayer before.
“Um,” I said. “OK.” Why didn’t I make some more notes about this on the whiteboard? I frantically cast my mind back to my childhood, when my parents would pray with us before bedtime. The comfort of the evening ritual; the ease of saying the familiar words together as a family. I continued, my voice more confident: “We’ll say the Lord’s Prayer.”
It would be an amazing story if the baby, soothed by the words of the prayer Jesus taught us, had stopped crying as we chanted the prayer over him like an incantation. Of course, that didn’t happen. He sobbed through our prayer and our lullaby, quieting only when we laid him down in his crib. As he rolled over and drifted off to sleep, perhaps he thought: Finally, something familiar!
Both the bedtime routine and our evening prayer have evolved since then.
My husband and I now switch off being the “point” parent, who administers milk, books, and prayers, and the “support” parent, who flits in and out of the room at times to bring a toothbrush or empty the diaper pail.
Prayer still begins with “Our Father,” because I like the idea of raising my child with a foundational prayer he can always turn to. In addition, inspired by my husband’s view of prayer as a conversation, we began asking our son a question after “now and forever”: “What do you want to talk to God about today?”
At 15 months old, he doesn’t have an answer just yet, so the “point parent” fills in with anything they want to discuss with God: prayers of gratitude for the day’s blessings, and prayers of hope that tomorrow will be similarly blessed. These prayers vary depending on the pray-er; while we both thank God for family and friends, my husband tends to add a prayer of thanks for good food to eat, while I include a plea for God to give my baby a good night’s sleep.
As he gets older, I imagine the ritual of both bedtime and prayer will change further. Perhaps we’ll teach him other traditional prayers or show him other ways to think about his conversation with God. I like the idea of trying something like the “five finger examen,” where each finger serves as a reminder to offer up something different to God. For now, it’s nice just knowing that we’ve taken the first step on a long path of introducing our child to the Lord and helping him to develop his spiritual relationship.
What’s more, simply taking the time to concentrate on prayer—on teaching my son to pray—has begun to help me keep a more consistent focus on my own conversation with God. I’ve noticed myself offering up more quick prayers throughout the day, making sure to check in with the Lord whenever I notice myself feeling thankful, worried, or hopeful.
So you could say that teaching my baby to pray is also teaching me to pray. For that, and for the many other blessings in my life, I thank you, God! Now, please: give my son a good night’s sleep.