My entire childhood I shared a room with my sister.
So, naturally, she 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 (obviously unaware her sister was praying) the prayerful sib would signal for silence by patting her mattress 3 times loudly and her chatterbox sister would then be required to “zip-it,” in the name of all that was holy and pure.
This system worked like a charm for many years. Even with a little Motor-Mouth sister like me.
So when I acquired my subsequent life-long 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 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 style of all folks out there with functioning OCD:
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, that 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.
My husband was added when we were 20 years old, the night we were officially engaged. I added “The Baby” on Thursday, March 6, 1986, when I found out I was pregnant with the first of our 5 children.
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 my precious Mother passed this past 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 my hubby, 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 dramatic date or a bad break-up and stood there sobbing, awaiting the most competent Parental Counselor. Trust me, their Daddy always insisted they wait for me to finish praying. He’d have sooner soothed a screaming newborn.
Recently, my hubby watched an NBA Thunder game in the den with our sons, because I couldn’t stand all the cussing and the fussing. Afterward, he burst in the room enthusiastically praising Russell 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.
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. It’s plastered all over billboards. But, I get the point. We’re supposed to surrender to God’s Will.
Yes, yes I get it. The day the Love of my Life 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.
That was almost three months ago. 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, for 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 to offer a cautionary tale. Even if you shut your eyes while praying, make sure they are metaphorically wide open. Because 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 — this is 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. Knees or no knees. Catholic or Protestant.
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 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.