My entire childhood I shared a room with my sister.
So, naturally Stef and I had to establish some ground rules for peace and harmony. As with all siblings, most of the guidelines we established in the interest of mutual respect were promptly discarded within a day or two.
In fact the only peace accord I ever recall honoring was “The Prayer Rule.”
“The Prayer Rule” was pretty straightforward for two little freckle-faced “Irish Twins” raised in a strict Catholic household. It simply stated that when one or the other of us was praying, the other one could not talk.
If one of us clambered out of her bed in the dark and started praying and the other sister started jabbering (unaware her sister was praying) the prayerful sib would signal for silence by patting her mattress 3 times loudly. Her chatterbox sister would then be required by the tenets of all that is holy and pure to zip-it.
This system worked like a charm for many years. Even with a little Motor-Mouth sister like me.
So when I acquired my subsequent roomie a few years down the road, I immediately indoctrinated him in “The Prayer Rule.” He wasn’t so much given to chatting me up in bed, but he would initiate other activities designed to distract me from my prayers. So I had to train him that my devotion to saying my prayers every night was non-negotiable.
Believe it or not, he respected that edict for 35 years, for all the stinkin’ good it did him in the end…
For as far back as my memory allows, I’ve recited the exact same prayers, in the exact same ritualized order:
In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
1. The Lord’s Prayer
2. The Hail Mary
3. Angel of God
4. A string of specific non-formulated prayers for the SAFETY of each one of my family members in chronological order of their ages, starting with my Dad, my Mom, on to my siblings…
In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the time I was a small frightened child, who realized she had zero control of a large and intimidating world, I believed, or hoped maybe, if I faithfully prayed these prayers in the exact same way without fail every night, I could somehow stave off the imminent tragedy lurking around every corner of our lives.
Jimmy was added the night we were officially engaged. I added “The Baby” on Thursday, March 6th, 1986 when I found out I was pregnant.
The years added up. Ditto the babies. Ditto the prayers.
When my dad died, he retained his seniority position in the line-up and I continued to pray for his “safety,” as I couldn’t bring myself to change a thing. It felt like a betrayal somehow. Same when Mom passed in September.
And when I tell you I prayed on my knees every night for as far back as I can remember, I’m not exaggerating.
I prayed on my knees for 33 years, while Jimmy, if he was home, waited patiently with the TV on mute. In the early years, he jiggled screaming newborns while I said my prayers, although I do recall a couple of occasions he thrust an angry baby my way mid-prayer cycle.
As the years went by hysterical teenagers found their way into our bedroom after a bad break-up and stood there sobbing awaiting the more competent parental counselor. Trust me, Jimmy always insisted they wait for me to finish praying. He’d have sooner soothed a screaming newborn.
Recently, Jimmy watched a Thunder game in the den with our sons, because I couldn’t stand the cussing and the fussing. Afterwards, he burst in the room praising Westbrook’s triple-double, causing me to pound our mattress 3 times emphatically. (As if my kneeling on the floor, hands clasped together pointed skyward wasn’t obvious enough!!)
“Okay, Okay,” he whisper-shouted, “But thank Him for the triple-double while you’re down there!”
And y’all – If I got all comfy cozy in bed and forgot my prayers, I got back out of bed and down on my knees.
No. matter. what.
Last night, a friend and I were discussing that expression, “Man Plans – God Laughs!” I have no idea who made that up or why everyone thinks it’s so clever. It’s not in the Bible. But, I do get the point. We’re supposed to surrender to God’s Will.
Yes, yes I get it. The day Jimmy was killed, he and I were making plans for our future over coffee. We talked about a lake house, a beach house or traveling the world. My husband had worked hard all his life and earned the right to relax and enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.
‘Twas not to be.
For what it’s worth, I still get on my knees every night and pray the exact same prayers in the exact same order as I have since 1960-something, petitioning God to keep my family SAFE. I add new people, but no one gets bumped.
I’m not writing this to brag about my commitment to prayer, but rather as a cautionary tale. If you pray with your eyes closed, keep them at least metaphorically open. Because my approach was all wrong. My prayers didn’t “work!”
I’m coming to the realization that one can plan and one can pray, but there’s no magic and no guarantees – such a difficult concept for self-diagnosed Control–Freaks to wrap our heads around.
In my senior year of college, I wrote a paper entitled, “The Juxtaposition of Our Human Free Will with God’s Foreknowledge.” It was a difficult thesis to write at the time. I never came to a decisive conclusion then and I’m no closer to one today.
I don’t know exactly how prayers are supposed to “work.” Or how they are supposed to sound for that matter. Formulated or unformulated. Eyes open, eyes closed. Knees or no knees. Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Muslim.
But I do still believe all prayers are heard.
Apparently, in life, there are certain things that are just going to happen. But I certainly don’t believe God laughed at us that morning as we sat naively sipping coffee and making plans that were never to be.
The God I pray to probably cried a tiny little bit.