“Prayer is a great weapon, a rich treasure, a wealth that is never exhausted, an undisturbed refuge, a cause of tranquility, the root of a multitude of blessings and their source.” – St. John Chrysostom
One aspect of parenting that makes an enormous difference in our children’s lives is our prayer life. When we pray, it affects not only our own selves and our own outlook: it also has a powerful effect on our entire household. We must pray so that our children can see us doing so. By including them we can teach them to pray as well. We should also pray when our children are not watching, as we endeavor to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17)
Following are a few excerpts from a recorded talk at a women’s retreat at St. Ignatius Antiochian Orthodox Church in Franklin, TN, in November of 2012. Mother Magdalena, from Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Elwood City, PA, gave this talk, which is posted on Ancient Faith Radio’s site at the link below. May the gleanings from the talk encourage each of us to work on our prayer life, draw us closer to God, and receive strength for the parenting task that lies before us!
“The Church gives us three forms of prayer: Say your prayers, go to church, and don’t forget God. The first one, ‘Go to church,’ liturgical, that’s the communal worship that we do in church. The second one is the personal time where we have our own personal prayer time, morning and evening. The third time is the rest of the day: ‘Never forget God.’
“So [on] the first one, liturgical, we’re not going to spend much time, because you… all go to church, and you understand. We go to church, this communal worship. We go partially to have our own needs met, but, even more important, we go to constitute the body of Christ. That’s where the body of Christ coalesces on earth, at that particular time, is in the church during the church service…
“The second one is personal prayer… Has anybody here ever felt like your day is like running a marathon? And you just get up and you start 60 miles an hour right there, and you go through your day? The personal prayer time, at the morning and the evening, that is—if you’re going to run a real marathon and you just get up and go to the starting line and the gun goes off and you start running, you’re going to get cramped pretty quickly. Likewise, you get to the end of it, and unless you cool down, unless you walk and cool yourself down, let your body settle down, you’re going to also get pretty sick. So it’s the same thing with our days. The personal prayer time that each one of us has bookends our days, so it’s the warm-up and the cool-down.
“The warm-up, however you want to do it, to say the prayers… if you’ve got three little kids that are under the age of four, maybe you have time to wave at your icon in the morning… That’s your prayer! But if you’re 70 years old and a widow, you have a little more time… It’s the time we tell God, ‘I may forget you, but don’t forget me! I want to give my life to you this day. I want you to be there,’ so you kind of set up the parameters for your life, and then you go out and live it.
“Then at the end of the day it’s the cool-down time where you say, ‘You know, I really wanted to do this. I didn’t do a very good job. I meant to talk to somebody and it just didn’t go that well, and this is why I was a little bit angry or a little bit impatient,’ or whatever. So you have your time to kind of cool down and talk to God, go over your life with the Lord, say your prayers, ask His blessing to go to sleep, ask His forgiveness. So your days begin and end with Him.
“The third time: what about all the rest of your 24 hours? …That’s the part that we don’t talk much about, but in the monastery, that’s what we do. We try to turn our entire life into prayer. So prayer gets taken out of the realm of being a task, being a thing to do that I have to set time aside for, and it becomes a way of life. This [is] where we really have a chance to walk with Jesus…
“…I’m going to give you homework [to help you turn your entire life into prayer]…. I’m going to give you three things—you have to pick one… and to say, ‘For the next year, this is going to be my spiritual exercise. I’m going to commit myself to doing this …[and] ask the Lord to help me…’ Then at the end of the year, you can pick another one, because, …if you’ve really given yourself to that exercise, it’s going to be so much a part of you you’re simply not going to stop doing it. You’re going to feel that Christ is closer to you, that you have more of a sense of His presence in your life…
“…The first one is to ask Christ to bless everything that we do. So every time that you start a task, no matter what it is, you say, ‘Lord, bless me.’ If you are in a situation in which you can make the sign of the Cross, you make the sign of the Cross. It’s that simple. Now, that doesn’t take any time. You can make the sign of the Cross while you’re going to get the vacuum cleaner. Whatever little prayer you want—’Christ, have mercy on me. Bless me to do this.’—that’s what you do… This particular exercise helps us to bring Christ into every aspect of our life, no matter what it is.
“…The second one is to give thanks to God for everything, no matter what. We thank God for every experience, every encounter, every piece of news, everything that comes our way. This exercise brings us to more of a trust in His presence, a trust in His providence, that He knows what He’s doing, and it acknowledges that His care, His loving care, can transform everything. It’s based on the crucifixion, which is the most evil of acts that ever could be done, but that most evil of acts became our salvation. So if He can take even His crucifixion and turn it into something good, He can take anything in our lives and turn it into something good.
“…The third exercise …is something that I picked up from Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos… The exercise is: be a bee, not a fly. The fly is the one, in a room like this that’s full of flowers and one pile of dirt, and the fly finds the pile of dirt. The bee… goes into a room that’s full of dirt with one flower, and the bee finds the flower. The first time I heard it I was so clearly a fly… Elder Paisios …says, ‘You’re either a bee or a fly. You’re not half one and half the other…’ The point of this exercise is to always look for the positive in whatever happens.
“So we have three exercises here. We ask Jesus to bless everything we do. We give thanks to God for everything, no matter what. And we look to making ourselves a bee rather than a fly…
“Each one of us can make a huge difference in our world. You just look throughout history and you find numerous examples of people who have left a great stamp on the world. One person, and if that person hadn’t been there, the world would be different, whether good or bad. It can be both, either way. We, as people, each one of us can make a huge difference…”
Listen to this talk in its entirety (or read the transcript) here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/episode/prayer_as_a_means_to_make_christ_the_center_of_our_life_at_all_times. The entire series of talks for that retreat was recorded, and they are all posted at: http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/st._ignatius_womens_retreat.
Additional excerpts from the talk:
“I quote Fr. Hopko a lot; we get sermons from him a lot, so we get this wealth of information. Anyway, he tells this story that he went to seminary, he went to graduate school, he got all these degrees, he wrote all these books, and he’s highly educated. After that, he realized that what he had learned was what his mother had taught him when he was five years old, which is: Say your prayers, go to church, and don’t forget God.”
“The smallest detail in life we can turn into a present for God, over which He rejoices, and in His joy makes it great.” ~ Mother Catherine (a nun in England)
“…In other words, we can welcome the smallest event exclusively as from His hands, receive it as a token of His tender love for us, and use it for Him. That’s the point of this asking Jesus to bless everything that we do.”
“It’s not an easy exercise, and we don’t always want to do it… Sometimes giving thanks [in everything] is very difficult… There’s a college student that took this exercise, and after a year he wrote an article in the OCF paper. He said:
‘Halfway through the year I was discussing the talk and the homework with my dad. I explained to him that it was quite fitting that I chose to give thanks to God because I was having a very excellent year. My father interjected with a perplexing comment: “It’s the other way around. Even though you’re having trials, you’re having a good year because you’re thanking God.’
So is your glass half-full or half-empty? I’m thanking God, so, yes, it’s good. So giving thanks to God for everything is the second exercise.”
“If we’re always looking for things that are positive, it’s harder to hold a grudge, and it gives us the strength to pray for others in all sorts of situations… We look for God’s hand in everything.”
“One thing that everybody can do without fail, very easy to do, is the first thing when you wake up in the morning and you kind of remember your name and who you are, is to make the sign of the Cross. The last thing you do at night, you do the same thing. You get in your bed and you’re falling asleep; make the sign of the Cross. That’s a prayer in and of itself, too. Even no matter how sick you are, you can still do that.”