Turning Gratitude into Prayer
When all the stars align, our nightly bedtime ritual with the boys looks like this: bath, books, goodnight kisses and can you lay by me for one more minute mama? My husband and I take turns with the tucking in. And, when I tuck Jack in, he still likes to be sung to. Let me assure you, this is not because of my nightingale like oratory skills, but rather in spite of my musical shortcomings. Each night when I ask him which song he would like to hear first, he says “ABC’s.” And, in true toddler like, delay tactic mode, he usually chooses “Wheels on the Bus” next because he knows even my short version has 4 or 5 verses. So I sing, and I drink in all the snuggling I can get because I’m fully aware that at some point, he will likely be too big, too old or too busy to snuggle with his mama.
Recently, we’ve added a new tradition to our nightly routine with Jack. Just before he goes to sleep, we ask him what his favorite part of the day was. I’m learning that he can’t always differentiate between something he really enjoyed today, and something he really enjoyed yesterday. Sometimes, when we’ve done something really special the day before, that memory is still playing in heavy rotation on his little highlight reel. And the more mundane events that occur on a normal basis get bumped. Last weekend he caught fireflies with his friends for the first time and housed them in plastic cups until their inevitable escape or demise. He still radiates with excitement about this. So, now we review the day with him first and then ask him what his favorite thing was. All in the name of posterity, of course.
I look forward to his response each night. Sometimes it is something so simple and sweet, like playing in the sandbox with daddy or riding his bike in the driveway. And, as he tells me what it is, this enormous smile emerges and slowly fills his entire face. And, I can see his blue eyes glow with excitement even by the dim 5 watt bulb of his night light. I love that if he spent any time with his grandparents that day, that usually tops his list.
He is at that scary and magical childhood stage where mostly just honesty resides. This is only scary when you fear him telling a stranger they have big feet or their hair looks funny, but completely magical for the awe & bliss that reside there, too. No underlying motives or self-consciousness has slipped into his awareness yet, just joy and a lot of boyish energy.
The first night I asked him, I wasn’t even sure he understood what “favorite” meant. So, I tried to explain it to him; I’m sure in too many words, but, he totally got it. He understood what I meant.
Originally, I just wanted to plant the seeds for some meaningful conversations down the road. Conversations that will grow and evolve as he gets older. And, I wanted the last thoughts in his head before he falls asleep to be happy, positive ones. Most importantly though, I want to transform this positive remembrance into gratitude. If I can get Jack to start thinking everyday about what the best part of his day was, then, when he is ready, I can pose the question like this: “What are you most grateful for today?”
Brene Brown said “Joy is a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.” Ultimately, I want practicing gratitude to sound like this in our house each night: “What do you want to thank God for today?”
My parents taught me to pray in a very thankful way. I still remember my mom teaching me how to say my first prayer. Dear God, Thank you so much for my family and all my nice things. That was it (or at least that’s all I can remember some thirty years later), but that was all it needed to be. I was too little to grasp much more anyway. I still, to this day start out all my prayers by saying thank you. Dear God, thank you for all the blessings in my life… like these two…
and this one…
Sunday mornings, I sometimes find focusing on mass somewhat challenging with little people in tow. So, I try to find additional ways to fill up my spiritual well when I’m feeling depleted. One of the things I enjoy is listening to services online when the house is quiet & still. One service I listened to recently centered on how to pray. I love how the message was summed up so clearly and so simply. So simple even a child could understand, I thought to myself.
He suggested we pray with this framework in mind:
- Dear God, Help me to honor you today.
- Dear God, Can you help me with this today?
- Dear God, I want to thank you for this today?
I am aspiring to teach both Jack and eventually Jamison how to pray in this manner. We are starting with number 3: transforming posititve acknowledgement, into gratitude and finally into prayer. There will be no shortage of things we need God’s help with (sharing with our brother, taking turns and saying please). And, hopefully, we can build up to honoring God from there.