Praying as a Family

excerpt from Faithful Metrics by Peggy Hahn

It’s the people who love me and whom I love that give my life meaning. For me, sitting at the table with my parents, my children, and my grandchildren provides a window into what makes a meaningful life of faith.

We often wait with hot plates of food in front of us while the older children argue over which grace we will say together. At ages five and six, they have a long list of songs and prayers to choose from. This takes time, while everyone impatiently waits. Once we pray their childhood prayer, my mother chimes in with her prayers. Wow. Everyone sits in silence to listen. For the first time all day, all six children under the age of six are quiet in this moment. Then one of the children interrupts with a loud AMEN and laughter erupts from everyone.

How do we know how to pray as a family?

This is not a rhetorical question. We know because the church taught us to pray. The church keeps us praying even when we have had seasons where mealtime grace was not the norm. We were held through hard, heart-wrenching times when we didn’t have words to pray for ourselves and during busy times when we didn’t make prayer a priority.

Before long, the children are finished eating and leave the table to play nearby. The adults are free to engage in grown-up conversation. My parents reflect on how different things are from when they were parents. They tell stories about their childhood. It makes me remember when my grandmother looked me in the eye and said, “Peggy, this is not my world.” She died four years ago at age 93. She was right.

I feel this truth in what my parents are sharing. I can admit that I feel it in myself.

I watch my parents wonder about the dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian meals we share together. I share their curiosity about the ways young parents set boundaries on screen time, something we never understood could be helpful when the screen was a television. There are so many new rules; the old rules seem antiquated.

That is until we stop to pray together before meals. Or in those moments when the children ask for (or give) a bedtime blessing.

These practices take my breath away because it is in these sacred moments that I realize what hasn’t changed. There is a core way of being that connects the dots between our generations. We are a family that worships, prays, and serves God in the messiness of life.

The power of the Holy Spirit and our home congregations should get all the credit for this. But no one is counting. There is no place for me to tell this story in a way that inspires leaders in the church to keep praying and teaching our traditional prayers (including ones like Johnny Appleseed) to the community.

Instead, the church feels a loss on the weeks we are together as a family practicing our faith outside the walls of our church.

The church feels like it has lost out because we aren’t in the room validating the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I am aching for a church that can find ways to celebrate with us when we have a faith that leaves the building.

I pray for a church that understands, expects, and prepares people to go. Yes … people go.

Where is the happy dance for people of God sent out to live their faith in daily life? At work, at school, at the table, or at bedtime? This should all count if it is indeed faithful to the Gospel.

Church leaders could stop judging people who miss worship because God is going with them and instead wonder and celebrate all who encounter Christ in these people, all those who will know God’s love is for them because people have been sent.

If only we could flip the paradigm with a new value system that encourages going.

The big pushback here is around things no one wants to talk about. Real concerns about funding the salaries of congregational staff, facility maintenance, and programs that teach the faith and serve the poor. These are crucial, right? Or are they? Who decides?

So many of the things I have felt were crucial have turned out to be less than important. If I could reclaim the number of hours I spent ironing my children’s church clothes or cleaning and polishing their little shoes so they would look cute at church, it would be shocking how much time I would have had to play and pray with them instead.

We get to lead through a very sacred season in our world where what is kept as a core value and what is released is up for grabs. Some of these decisions are made with God’s mission in mind. Others are made to preserve our treasures on earth. There can be a fine line here that is hard to discern.

I love using the lace tablecloth from my deceased mother-in-law or the silver from some relative I never really knew to serve my family dinner. It feels like a perfect blend of values, tradition, and respect made available to my grandchildren, who blow bubbles in the crystal glass filled with milk. In the end, I don’t care if they keep the dishes for their own families, but I do care with all of my being that they keep the faith.

Please join me in praying that leaders in the church focus on what matters most. The Holy Spirit is way ahead of us and we are wasting precious time.

2 replies
  1. Jim Abbott
    Jim Abbott says:

    You touched some deep questions. What about the families that are not in church because competitive sports are the focus of their life together? Yes, sports can teach some important values, but not faith. Yet, to criticize them just drives them away. Can the church (not Sunday AM) be the place where families gather to pray together at a meal? How about in one of 4? 6? 8? homes that take turns hosting? I feel that at the bottom of this is a “scattered” lifestyle that pulls us all apart, even within families. Don’t know what comes next, but it will not look like the past, not even close.

    Reply
  2. Peggy Hahn
    Peggy Hahn says:

    You are so right in saying what comes next will not look kind the past. We are in this liminal space as a Christian movement and the future is unfolding already. We have forty years of research that tells us faith is formed through the power of the Holy Spirit in trusted relationships, especially in our own homes. Sacred space is everywhere and the church can claim and count more than Sunday morning or Wednesday night. If we want a 24-7 faith why not lean into this?

    Reply

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