Note: I wrote this over three years ago. I am sharing it with you even now that I have older children. The principles still ring true even without little ones hanging on to me all day long.
They are three little words that at once create a hunger and frustration within me: I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” In the midst of busy days of homeschooling, cooking and cleaning up meals and chasing dust bunnies occasionally with a broom, the directive to pray constantly seems a little too much. And what about those rare nights when all the children sleep for more than two hours at a time? Praying does not seem to come to mind when I am lost in dream land. Yet, it is there. Part of the inspired Scripture. In black and white.
A monk of the 17th century, known simply as Brother Lawrence, was known for his close relationship with God. I find it most helpful as a mother that most of his life in the monastery consisted of kitchen work. He did not walk about praying prayers and holding candles, but he rolled up the sleeves of his robe and scrubbed pots and pans. A quote from him in a book about his life, The Practice of the Presence of God, shows us how he viewed the command to pray without ceasing:
“The most excellent method…of going to God is that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, and (as far as we are able) purely for the love of God.”
A more recent example of this lifestyle is Annie S. Hawks, a hymn writer of the late 1800s. She wrote about how the words of her best-known hymn came to her:
“One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me.” (Source)
Both for Brother Lawrence and Mrs. Hawks, prayer was a constant closeness to the Lord in the midst of daily work. It was not something that required they shut themselves up in a quiet room for hours. If that is prayer, it will take me about eighteen more years to reach that ideal! These saints, and even Jesus Himself, made prayer a part of their life in a way that God was always near. They need only whisper to Him and know He heard them.
I know what you are thinking. “That sounds nice, but how am I supposed to hear God or be heard when my house is so loud?” As a mother to four children under 10, I often feel the same way. Here are a just a few practical ways I have found to help me practice the presence of God:
1. Make time.
Writers tell us that Susanna Wesley, mother of the great hymn writers and preachers of the Great Awakening, John and Charles Wesley, had the habit of throwing her apron over her head when she needed to pray during the noise of her day. In a sense, we mothers need to just take the time to spend with the Lord. This may mean rising before our children or staying up late at night. Our relationship with God is essential to Godly parenting.
2. Invite interruptions.
My day always goes best when I rise before my children and spend some quiet minutes with my Bible and prayer. Of course, life happens, and often a child will wake early and wander in. God does not fit into a box, even a time slot. When a child comes, I try not to think of him as an interruption. Instead, I pull him close and say, “Let me tell you what God is teaching me today!” I pray that this attitude will inspire them to live close to the Lord instead of seeing Him as unapproachable because Mom always shut them out when she was talking to Him.
3. Pray when you wake through the night.
Mothers of newborns know the thrill of velvety soft cheeks and downy heads. They also know the stupor of never sleeping more than two hours at a time. If you are in this stage, you may think there is no way you are ever awake enough for prayer. I remember waking at night to feed my firstborn daughter and praying for her salvation and even her future mate as I rocked her. Although you just want to get back to bed, accept this as a time when you have one-on-one time with your baby to pray for her.
4. Pray on the hour.
The biggest challenge of praying without ceasing is that it is easy to forget. The tendency is for the events of our days to crowd in on each other until we get to bedtime and realize that we have hardly thought about the Lord. When this happens, I like to set a watch or my cell phone timer to go off at the top of every hour. When it beeps, I stop along with any children in the room with me to pray and thank God for His help so far that day. It is a reminder to just pause and nurture my relationship with Him in the busyness of the day.
5. Thank the Lord for the little things.
This is something that Ann Voskamp, best-selling author of One Thousand Gifts, encourages us to do. She has photographed things as simple as the curls of cheese on the family salad and the rainbow-hued suds in her sink of dishes. These are what she considers gifts from God Who deserves our thanks for them. Instead of groaning about those potato peels littering the kitchen floor after my “helpers” have finished, I try to remember to thank God for willing hands and the food that He has so graciously provided.
Prayer is truly a living, breathing relationship. It is ongoing. It is not meant for me to offer it behind the closed doors of monasteries but in the messy, dailiness of our lives. Life itself is a constant prayer to my Father.