I was asked to give a sharing about "Family Life in A Complex World". I chose to relate two stories from the past year as the substance of my talk.
This is the first:
The first topic related to family life that I would like to share with you explains how our family got started with praying more together. Secondly, I'd like to share one initiative that has enriched our meal times together. Both of these stories are from this last year and still “works in progress.” I find that embracing the complexity of family life is first and foremost accepting the evolving process of learning and growing together; it involves some trial and error and tweaking our methods as we enter new “phases” of life. We are now 15 years into family life and have three girls between the ages of 8 and 14.
First, our prayer life: It was a Tuesday evening in September and Ben, his head Tom, and myself were sitting in our back porch having a difficult, but good conversation – sorting through some issues, expressing hurts and the need for reconciliation - all good things.
One of the areas of family life that we brought up was praying together. Praying together as a family has always been a desire of mine and over the years we have experienced it in one form or another, but it never developed into a habit. I've admired the families who wake up the household early, gather everyone around and sing, pray, intercede, share, etc. The picture I have in mind always involved a guitar, boisterous praise, sincere intercession, and a joyful send off to face the day.
This picture never seemed quite attainable for us. I am a morning person. Ben is not. We don't have instrument talent in our family. Fitting in personal prayer was challenging enough, family prayer? That seemed like adding one more thing that would take a great amount of effort.
As we talked with Tom that evening we kicked around some ideas for prayer. What format should we use? How long should we pray? On which days? At which time? Etc. We seemed to be at a crossroads, no clear plan in sight when it occurred to me to say, “Well, why don't we just start with something that is really important to us now? I'm pregnant. I'm sick. Let's just gather to pray over me and the baby and see what comes of that. Let's keep it simple. I think we can handle that.”
I was 16 weeks along and spending most of my time on the couch since moving around made me nauseous. We all agreed that my approach would work and chose to pray on Monday mornings just before the kids headed off to school and Ben to work.
It was a simple plan, but one that seemed doable and more importantly, one we thought we could be faithful to because it started with something that really mattered to us. It was relevant to our family.
I told Tom that it would probably be a good idea if he periodically checked in with us to see how it was going. Building accountability into our life helps. A lot. Knowing we had Tom to support us was helpful in moving forward with our plan.
So, Monday morning rolls around, but sitting together praying as a family was the last thing I wanted to do. Two days before, on Saturday, at about 9 in the morning, Ben and I found ourselves in the ER and heard the doctor say (for the third time in our marriage and the second time in nine months), “All your levels look good. But your baby does not have a heartbeat and there is no fetal movement.”
Now I had lost my dad to cancer two months before this. Losing a parent was really hard to live through. I am still sad that my dad is gone, I miss him a lot. But I had 14 years to adjust to the fact that he probably wouldn't live to be an old man. And I have 39 years of great memories of him.
But this news on this day was devastating. My world came crashing down around me. The grief that comes with hopes and dreams unfulfilled is really hard to bear. My heart hurt deeply for my loss, but I also had to watch a husband grieve for the son he would never raise and to comfort and pastor three daughters who had prayed for years for another sibling and were now experiencing the pain of losing that again in an instant.
So here we were. On Monday morning. Our intention to pray over me and for the baby was completely flipped upside down. How could we possibly proceed now with our reality being what it was? This was a nightmare for me. I felt abandoned by the Lord and his promises to me. I was struggling to face Ben and the girls, much less wanting to face the Lord.
But, we said we would pray and we did. We had made a commitment to each other and to the Lord. Somehow Ben called us together and we sat around our coffee table. Only by the grace of God, I believe, did he have the strength to lead us in prayer. He picked up the devotional he uses for personal
prayer and the psalm for the day was 126. Admitting this was going to be hard to read, Ben started,
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.'
The Lord has done great things for us, And we are glad.
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing...”
While there are many things that I can look back to as the Lord caring for us through that time: Amy Root coming over one morning just to do my dishes; I needed someone to just feel the freedom to pop over and do something; Beth Bulger reaching out to me and tenderly saying, “I just love how you loved your little boy”; I needed someone to affirm my motherhood of that child; Jeanne Stauble dropping off a meal immediately after she heard our news; the Trinity faculty donating a generous amount of money so we could have a nice meal together and the girls could attend a Cirque du Soliel performance.....the list goes on.
But, I also needed Ben to lead us through the next days and weeks and it started with that morning prayer.
I believe that the truth of the Scripture Ben read was also the Lord gently reminding us that this is not the end for us. When the ugliness of Satan's whispers, doubts and despair entered my mind and pain and loss gripped my heart, I needed the Truth of Scripture to cling to. We all needed the word of God to ring throughout our home. And I believe it was important that it come from us. Ben's leadership that morning, sitting us down, reading from the Bible, then saying a simple prayer for all of us set us on a path of healing that continues today.
Since that first Monday morning family prayer together, we have continued to pray. As December approached, we again asked ourselves, “What is important to us? Well, the season of Advent is.” So, we used the book of Advent reflections provided by our church as the framework for prayer that month. In fact, we prayed almost daily those few weeks rather than just once a week. I can honestly say that the effort has become a habit. This season of Lent has been much the same. Recently we even prayed together over Google Hangouts while Ben was on a business trip. It was funny to watch Izzy try to “hold Ben's hand” virtually as we closed our prayer with the “Our Father”.
I can't say we have a perfect record. We're human. Occasionally we have forgotten or there just wasn't time to sit together as a family, but for the most part, we've done it. Following through with our initial intention to pray for a specific need, the baby, and having that need drastically change, but staying faithful, was life changing for us.