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Family Prayers in The Mixed Belief Marriage

Family Prayers in The Mixed Belief Marriage

 A few years ago, a fairly typical family scene occurred at our dinner table.  Engaged in a rousing song of her own creation, our 6 year old daughter refused to settle down for our mealtime prayer.  It wasn’t a malicious act, simply a silly one.  You know, like when you’ve got the giggles in church and just can’t stop.

“Let’s finish the song for now then you can sing more after dinner.”  I said.  She quieted—until I began our prayer.  “Thank you Lord…” was interrupted by the sounds of humming and clapping to “if you’re happy and you know it.” 

   “Ok, let’s try again.”  I said, then started over.  This was met with a childish shriek, the fun turned to anger as her comedic talent went unappreciated by her boring parents. 

“That’s enough.”  My husband interjected.  “This is prayer time.”

  “I DON’T WANT TO SAY PRAYERS!!!” She escalated toward a tantrum, fully into her six-year old boundary testing.

 You’ve all been there, right?

The surprising part of this story isn’t that there was a conflict between child and parents, it’s that there wasn’t a conflict between the parents themselves. Since my husband and I navigate a mixed-belief marriage (I’m religious, he’s not) there’s often curiosity about how we handle these day-to-day parenting moments when questions of faith are on the line.

I wish the answers were sexier and something I could market for big money but the reality is simple: we navigate these issues with respect and love. The difficult part of this advice is that “respect” looks different to each individual. Until I started talking to other mixed-belief couples, I thought that our way of handling religious issues was the only way. This wasn’t because other ways were wrong but because it didn’t even cross my mind that other ways existed. We had been doing things our way, and happily, for so long that I truly didn’t know that others had found different solutions—or different struggles.

For Hannah and Toby, the question of prayer is a trouble spot. Toby, who grew up in a conservative religious tradition but left it as an adult, worries about his children being taught to pray. For him, this triggers memories of a faith life that he found oppressive. For Hannah, prayer is a central part of her life.

For much of their marriage, they had an easy solution. Hannah prayed, Toby didn’t. This difference has come to a head as the couple has had children. Toby is uncomfortable with family prayers before meals, even if he doesn’t have to participate. When pushed on the topic, he will quickly become defensive, even antagonistic. For Hannah, thanking God for even the simplest of meals is an important spiritual practice—and one she wants to pass on to their children.

In their case, solving this disagreement with respect looks very different than the way my family has solved the question. For some time, Hannah was the one who gave in, setting aside the idea of blessing the meal in order to preserve family peace. As this decision began to weigh on her, she began to look for other solutions. We brainstormed some possibilities:

  1.  Alternate prayers at meals. This is a classic “sharing” style solution, one that many interfaith couples use. For my Jewish/Christian family friends, on one night a traditional Jewish prayer is said, on the next, a traditional Christian prayer. For a mixed-belief family, it may be as simple as saying family prayers at one dinner and skipping them at the next
  2. Find a non-religious “blessing.” At Thanksgiving, I created a list of non-religious meal blessings. As extended families and friends gather, I think the responsibility falls heavily on Christians to make others feel welcome. This isn’t the time to press our beliefs on others with words, it’s the time to show a deep-seated love and welcome in the spirit of One who ate with all the people.  A mixed belief couple I know uses a similar approach at every meal. They take the time to give thanks but there is no reference to God, Jesus or religion. Still, this simple act of giving thanks centers them both in the realization that even the food we take for granted is cause for gratitude.
  3.  Make prayer a priority in a different way. Use bedtime, bath time or the drive to school as a prayer time with children, leaving the non-religious spouse out of it. Any of these daily times can become imbued with the same significance: giving thanks for the simple necessities of life. This is how we do bedtime prayers. When I put our daughter to bed, there’s prayer. When my husband does the good night duties, there isn’t.
  4. Create a family prayer routine, for example at mealtimes or bedtimes, but let the non-religious spouse participate (or not) as they feel comfortable

  I offer these solutions in part as ideas for those who are wrestling with this and looking for ideas–I get asked a lot about the nuts and bolts of mixed belief families. However, I also offer them with another purpose in mind: to reaffirm that there is no one right answer. In any marriage, the process of resolving conflict is far more important than the resolution itself. In this, as in the myriad of other religious practices families navigate, the route we take is a greater predictor of success than the destination we reach. So if prayer is a sticky subject in your house right now, as it is for some, then by all means, try a few different things. But whatever you decide, do it in a spirit of love and grace and you won’t go wrong.



3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

In an age when we have so much–so much entertainment, so much busy-ness, so much noise and bustle–it’s hard to find time for stillness. I know, because I fail at it all the time. Add in even a little bit of internal stress and we find ourselves completely ungrounded. We lose touch with the inner calm that would allow us to weather work stress, family stress or even just the evening news. And the ability to listen to that still, small voice? Completely gone.

Perhaps even more concerning is that our children are also missing out on this. Bombarded with stimulation from all angles, they lose the chance to simply sit in quiet.

Reintroducing children to stillness takes patience and skill. A no-holds-barred approach is likely to lead to rebellion and cries of “I’m booooored.” Luckily, there are many ways to incorporate prayer and quiet that provide guidance and focus. Prayer beads are one of these ways. Beads provide guidance for praying as well as tactile stimulation–great for fidgeters and people with active minds. Even better, children love making them. I’ve done prayer beads with two groups of children and adults in the past few months and all of them have enjoyed them. Here are three examples of prayer beads:

1. These beads are made up of the traditional sets of seven beads.  You can say a different prayer for each set of beads, as the folks at King of Peace suggest or use each set as a reminder to prayer for something in your life.  I like to use the sets to remind me to pray for things I’m grateful for, sorry for, people and a last set for anything else on my mind.  Here’s a version I use with kids and youth. Prayer Beads


2. Over at The Little Ways, there’s a great tutorial for making “Good Deed Beads.”  They recommend using them to keep track of good deeds you’ve done through the day.  Because the beads stay in place once you slide them, they’re a great tool for counting throughout the day.  One teacher I know uses them to teach children to take calming breaths, sliding the bead along the cord with each breath they take.

sacrifice beads2

3. And there’s this set of beads, which is easy to make and features simple prayer reminders.

Prayer beads for protestants - great for Lent:

(Pic only.  The picture links to a private blog but it was too good not to share!  What a fun way to use some special beads and it could easily double as a bracelet.


I’m linking up this week with #wholemama prompt stillness.  Katie Faulk has a great post this week on stillness and loss.  I, on the other hand, am going with a list-style post because it has been a crazy 3 weeks.  Thanksgiving travel followed by starting a new job and getting a major writing assignment–due before Christmas, naturally.  All in all, I’m thrilled by everything but thank heavens I did my Christmas shopping early!


A Deep Desire: When Spiritual Fluff Fails

A Deep Desire: When Spiritual Fluff Fails

“Can I have another piece of candy?”  Of course this is the voice of my daughter, eyeing the loot from Halloween.  We’re blasting through that stuff this year.  Maybe it’s a sign of a strong economy but she came home with a bucket of the good stuff.  Some of these people passed out full size candy bars, as if to emphasize that I’d left a bucket of cheap old Sixlets by my door with a note that said, “Take some.”

Much to my daughter’s dismay, I answered her question the responsible way.  “I know you think you want candy but you’re actually hungry for real food.  Have a carrot while I make dinner.”

A Deep Desire

Oh, this is so much easier said than done.  I recognized her frustration, the urge to kick and scream and maybe sneak into the candy while I wasn’t looking.  I’d been eating Tootsie Rolls and calling them lunch for days.  They were delicious but they weren’t really what I needed.  It was like when you have an itch on your back that you can almost reach.  You sort of just scratch all around the area and hope that the nerves will be fooled.  The candy-eating took on a frenetic edge.  They filled me up but left me unsatisfied.  So, naturally, I did the human thing and ate more of them.  I did this even though I knew that I was actually hungry for real food.  My heart was saying, “grab a carrot,” but my hands were plowing their way through a field of candy.

Why do we do this? 

Those who are good at quoting scripture would point to the passage from Matthew, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Which doesn’t answer the question of “why” but it certainly lets us know we’re not alone.  It’s in the Bible, after all.  Thousands of years of human history witnessing to the fact that we are not good at doing what’s good for us.

Last week over at SheLoves, Kathy Escobar explored the analogy between the way we treat food and the way we treat our spiritual life.  “When you are spiritually hungry, what do you do to get relief?”  She asked.  Then she went on to make a list of exactly all the things I do before breaking down and actually reaching for the spiritual carrot.

How many times do we encounter a restlessness in our hearts and try to beat it by flipping on the TV?  Gossiping?  Reading?

Never?  Well, maybe you can teach me because I do it all the time.  All.  The. Time.  Sometimes it’s not even as obvious as TV.  Sometimes it’s something masquerading as something good.  “I’ll make time for quiet as soon as I get the dishes done…read this chapter…finish this lesson plan…”

I’m so good at avoiding spiritual hunger that I trick myself into thinking I’m being disciplined.

Why do we not listen to our deepest desires, the voice that is calling out for something more than busyness or distraction?

Why do we struggle to make time for the things that will make us truly content rather than the things that will dull the ache?

Honestly, I think its ego.  I think that somehow we still think that our minds know better than our hearts.  We still think that we can spend time doing what we want rather than what we need.  We still think we know better what will make us content and whole.  We still think that we know better than a whole host of humans who have gone before us, waving their arms, writing on stones, leaving messages in poetry and scripture saying, “make time to stop!”

We are like frail flowers eagerly leaping toward the sun without first digging deep into the rich soil below.  We want so badly to focus on the visible aspects of life rather than the unseen, but more sustaining, inner life.

Frail flowers quote

St. Augustine, who struggled so well with this, once prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  This is a truth so simple and so profound that will hear it and hear it again without letting it seep into our souls.

We will be exhausted and unsatisfied until we learn to listen to that still, small voice vying for our attention.

Now, I like systems, plans and resolutions.  My urge to make a pledge right here and now to engage in 20 minutes of silent prayer each and every day for the rest of the year.  That’s only 50 days, which I just looked up and then found so shocking that I recounted for myself.  But as much as I love Big Ideas and Grand Plans, I also love the wisdom of doing what you can, when you can, and trusting that God will meet you where you’re at.

Instead of a pledge, here’s an invitation.  For today and today only, take 5 minutes to just be quiet with God.  Do whatever you want with it.  Sit quietly. Ponder a Bible passage.  Light a candle, journal or just breathe.  Do whatever nourishes your deepest desire for connection with God.  Then do it again tomorrow.  It’s as simple and profound as that.

The hunger is there for a reason; we might as well might time to feed it.


I’m linking up with #wholemama for the word “Desire.”  Follow me over to read more.


We’re Not Enough

We’re Not Enough

Flowers on potteryIt is in the silence that it comes to me.  There is nothing to do here.  Nothing to be, even.  There is only stillness.  It is enough.


My day is carefully plotted out to maximize production.  This is a discipline.  I’m quite proud of my productiveness.  I recount my day’s accomplishments with glee.  Then the glee turns into frustration as I survey all the things I didn’t accomplish.

The downside of “discipline” is that it is closely related to pressure.  We never get done everything we want to get done.  We never do it as well as we’d like to do it.  No matter how we structure our to-do lists, schedules and other time-management techniques, some things fall through the cracks.

These things happen and we begin to beat ourselves up.  We wonder whether we’ll ever be successful, be meaningful, be beautiful.  We run around like maniacal wind-up toys, trying to accomplish something–whether it’s the perfect job, house, spouse, children or volunteer of the year award.  We are deflated and sometimes even hopeless because we never make the mark.

Look, I’ve read all the books and blogs.  I’ve listened to all the advice.  Heck, I’ve given all the advice.  And still, all this sneaks in.

I am actually tired of hearing about how we have to affirm that we are all good enough just as we are.  Not because it’s not true, not because it’s not needed, but because it just adds to the guilt and pressure.  Now I’m not enough and I’m not even enough of an enough to accept my enoughness.  The quotes about love and acceptance are always inspirational and I always want to print them all out and frame them in the hopes that somehow it will actually sink in but it never does.  I never spend a whole day happy and excited about “living the now!” and “feeling God’s love!” and “knowing I’m enough!”


I have been running this personal experiment with silence and stillness lately.  So far I’m very not good at it.  Sitting in stillness falls off my list quite often because I have all these things to do.  But I have done it more in the past 2 weeks than I did in the 2 weeks before that, and the 2 weeks before that, and so on, so I suppose it is progress.

Yesterday morning I arrived at yoga early.  I went into the studio and sat.  Quietly.  ( I have to admit, this desire to get there early was in part because for the past three weeks, someone has been taking my space.  It’s the one by the window, middle row.  Now you know.  Stop stealing it.)  So I claimed my space, got out my mat and sat.  I began to fidget after about 3 seconds.  I began to think of all the things I could be doing.  I realized this time could be better spent making a to-do list. I tried drawing my attention back to my breath, just like they say to do.

Notice the thoughts, then let them go.

I spent a lot of time noticing thoughts and then trying to let them go.  When that didn’t work, I tried to shove them out the door.  It became a wrestling match.  I lost.  And then…

And then I had a few blissful moments of actual, honest-to-God stillness.  In this moment of stillness it came…the realization that there was real life right here while I did nothing, thought nothing, was nothing.  There is meaning here, in a classroom filled with wanna-be yogis unrolling their mats and chatting about their weekends, right here in the too-loud mind of someone who thinks too much, right here in the very stillness.

I don’t know what all this means or how to put it in words that will help you find your own space for stillness.  I just know that in that space I found rest and grace.  In this silence, all my failures–for that matter, all my accomplishments–didn’t matter.  They would never matter and this a profound relief.  In this stillness, there was Enough.  More importantly, there was enough enoughness to make up for all that I lack.  I am not enough.  I never will be.  But in the quiet stillness there was Enough for me to soak in and soak up, enough to take with me.  Enough to share.

By 2:00 that feeling had faded and I was back to wind-up toy status.  It’s a work in progress.  But it was a nudge I needed.  I know it is there again–for me and for you, rest and grace and Enough, all waiting in the stillness.      

Praying in Color

Praying in Color

PinC Amelia2

It’s hard to believe that’s a prayer.  Doesn’t it just look abstract and fun?

I was surprised by how much I connected with this prayer form. I originally chose it with my daughter in mind. She loves to color. At age 7, she also does much better when things are hands-on.

The inspiration for this prayer comes from Sybil MacBeth’s book Praying in Color, which I found completely by accident at the library. Here’s the summarized version of praying this way:

  1. Begin drawing shapes. I started out praying for a situation in which many people are involved. You see my shapes are all connected. They don’t have to be. You can have shapes all over the place.
  2. Fill in with names of people or things you’re praying for. You can do this as you go, as I did. Or create a bunch of shapes and then add names later, as my daughter did.
  3. Color.  We used crayon because they were handy.  Markers, paints or artist quality pencils would all work and add to the experience.

Easy, right?

Here’s how it worked for me. First off, I just started with a situation that was heavy on my heart—the death of a family member. I created shapes and filled in names as I went. It was pretty fast work at that point. As I got all those names down, I began to feel a sense of relief. Phew! It was out of my head now!  The physical practice really helped me re-center and give all this to God.

Next, I went back and began coloring. This gave me time to really think about each individual instead of becoming mired down in the overwhelming big picture. As I colored each name, my mind focused on what that particular person needed as they wrestled with grief. Some were now facing financial concerns, some were the care-takers in the family and were handling all the logistics of arranging for the funeral, some were estranged and seeking re-connection. Even though my coloring wasn’t fancy, doing it really gave me time to pray for each of these people. This was the part where I began to feel really calm and prayerful.

As I finished coloring all the names, I realized that what each of them needed was peace. I added that at the bottom, coloring it in a way that I imagined peace would look if it settled down into a bunch of turmoil.


The kid verdict: Isabel loved this. She really got into drawing the shapes. She wrote the names of her prayers down first, then started going back and coloring. She’s a pretty meticulous kid and writing is a new skill so the drawing and writing took a while. She started coloring but then got tired and decided to save it for later. I’d say she spent 15 or 20 minutes on it though. Not shabby for a 7 year old in prayer!


Helpful tip: Isabel needed a reminder of what prayer is. She remembered that we often say prayers of gratitude.  “So, I just fill in all these shapes with things I’m thankful for?” She asked. I explained that yes, being thankful was a good prayer. I also told her she could list things she was worried about. After that, she was off and running. With younger kids or people who like a little more support to get started praying, this labeled Template for Color Prayer might be a good starting place.

Happy praying!


Introducing the Great Prayer Experiment!

Introducing the Great Prayer Experiment!

Do you pray with your family?

I recently did a study on how families practice their faith together. Interestingly, the majority of respondents from all faith backgrounds, don’t pray together as a family. That is, no before-meals prayers, bedtime prayers or other prayers outside of a religious setting.

Now, I’m not here to tell people how awful they are as human beings and parents. For one, I just don’t believe it. It did make me start thinking about prayer, though. How do people learn to pray? How does it become part of everyday life?

Teach us to pray.

We all have our own hang-ups about prayer. For some, it’s too boring. Others don’t have time. Some aren’t sure how to do it. Some aren’t sure why to do it.

For all these reasons, we struggle with prayer. You know what, we’re not alone. It’s a struggle most people have, including the disciples. Remember the story? One day, while Jesus was praying, the disciples saw him. Who knows what went through their minds. Jealousy? Wistfulness? Unease? In any case, they said, “Teach us to pray Lord.” In return, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer. (Some churches call this the “Disciples’ Prayer.” I love that. It’s not just the prayer Jesus prayed, it’s the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.)

Introducing The Great Prayer Experiment

I’ll admit it: I’m not as good about praying as I’d like to be. I’m also not as good about praying with my daughter. We do pray before most meals, so that’s a good start. Other times and occasions are hit and miss.

So I’m launching a challenge for myself to begin praying more as a family. To do that, I’m going to explore different ways of praying.

Are there different ways to pray?

Yes! There are new and ancient ways to pray. Word prayers, walking prayers, coloring prayers, doodling prayers, prayer beads…the list goes on!

We’ll try a new way each week, which I’ll be blogging about here, along with tips and tricks for each way of praying, how it works with kids and any other bits of wisdom I find along the way.

I can’t wait to get started!