As a child, I was intrigued by the idea of nightly prayers. This wasn’t something I had ever done, or seen anybody do. But I often wondered about it, and wished I knew how to do it.
I first learned about nightly prayers on television. Anne of Green Gables, to be exact.
Anne Shirley, a plucky orphan with a brilliant mind and a penchant for getting in trouble, stands beside her new guardian, Marilla Cuthbert, who’s not at all sure yet that she wants to keep this child the universe has dropped in her lap.
“Do you pray, child?” asks Marilla.
“No,” says Anne. “At the orphanage they told me that God made my hair red on purpose, and I’ve never cared for him since.”
Marilla looks aghast. “Well, while you’re under my roof, you will say your prayers.”
“Certainly,” says Anne. “How do I do it?”
“You thank the good Lord for all his blessings, and then humbly ask him for what you want.”
Anne does her best to come up with a prayer, which lists all the things she most wants. She ends it, “I remain yours most respectfully, Anne Shirley. That’s Anne with an e.”
Marilla shakes her head disapprovingly.
“How’d I do?” Anne asks her.
“Pretty well,” says Marilla, “if you were requesting a catalogue from the general store!”
I remember seeing this scene as a child. And even without understanding anything else about the context of protestantism in the late 1800s, I felt what I imagine I was supposed to feel as a viewer.
Anne was coming into a life that could finally provide her with the loving structure that she as an orphan had so yearned for and needed.
Bringing in a new nightly habit like this might feel awkward at first. Like a pair of shoes that hasn’t been broken in yet. We have to walk in shoes for a while before they start to fit us right. It takes time for a new activity to become a habit.
It takes time to choose and establish the daily activities that will become family traditions.
I didn’t take up the practice of nightly prayers as a child. I might have liked to, I think. But in my childhood home, which was culturally Jewish, we were also atheists, so I could never quite figure out whom to address.
Now, all these years later, a lot has changed.
My life’s path has led me through exploring many of the world’s spiritual traditions, through both academic study and personal practices.
Now, after many years of searching, learning, and inner work, I have come to feel a deep personal connection to divine love that is the guiding force behind all I do.
As a mother, I want to help create the space for my children to also find their own sense of connection to the great love that exists in this world for them to draw on.
So I’ve grounded our lives in daily practices that help keep spirituality real and alive for them, and for myself.
Last week, I shared one of these daily practices – mealtime blessings.
Today, I want to share another gratitude practice. It’s our family’s version of nighttime prayers.
We do this right before bed. The children have finished their evening romping. Jammies are on, teeth are brushed, stories have been read, and only the nightlight is on.
After all the hustle and bustle of the day, we are quiet and together.
As we are all lying there in the dark, I take a moment to list all the things I’m grateful for in that moment.
“Dear Spirit, thank you for these two precious children. Thank you for our health. Thank you for the sun and water. Thank you for the dreams that will come to nourish us tonight. Thank you for grammy and grampa, and all the strength that helps us do the things we love.”
Peregrine, who is newly two, usually follows suit with a list of her favorite animals. “Thank you for the giraffes. Thank you for the snakes. Thank you for the koala bears, (which she pronounces “K’lah.”)
Ember, who is newly five, is usually quietly introspective. But if we are ever slow to get to this moment, he asks for it.
“Can we do our thank yous?” comes his soft voice in the dark.
And when we begin, he snuggles in close and listens.
It takes only a moment, but I think this is the most nourishing moment of our day.
And if you are looking for ways to bring more mindful togetherness into your family life, I know no better place to begin.
One note – in this, as in all things, children are best served when we don’t ask them to perform. Children at this age learn through modeling. So don’t ask them to do it, just do it yourself.
And stay present with and to them while you say what is in your heart.
If you don’t have a sense of God or Spirit in your life, that’s okay too. You can thank life itself. Thank the Earth. Thank the wind. Thank the water. Thank whatever people or powers you can identify that have brought goodness and love into your life.
It is less important whom we address, and more important that we open the space for gratitude as a practice. Because a gratitude practice will transform you, pure and simple.
Gratitude opens the door for us to notice our blessings, and in noticing, to more deeply receive them.
But it’s more than this, too. In establishing a daily practice like this, you are not just bringing a beautiful moment of connection to your family. You are also opening a door for your children to join you on a path of spiritual discovery.
They may not grow up thinking like you.
But regardless of what they come to believe, they’ll have learned from you the importance of making the space to think about it.
We are all connected. Not just to each other, but to the earth. Not just to the earth, but to an infinite well of love and strength that is there for us to draw on.
Sometimes, we just need to make a little space to remember.
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