Off and on in my short years as a parent, I have done a night time prayer routine with my boys. A few weeks ago, I started it up again with the common “Now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer. Though, I must admit, I never liked the ending I remember from childhood. The one that goes “And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” So, I take a lighter ending with my kids – “May angels guide me through the night, until I wake with morning light.” The twins are super enthusiastic about the prayer. They mimic the sign of the cross alongside me and try to say the words as well. And at the end of the prayer each night, I ask “What are you grateful for today?” And they usually reply with the same thing, whatever it is, one right after another. “Mom, today I am grateful for… gumballs,” one will say. And when I turn to the other, I’ll find him laughing under his blanket as he shouts “yea, gumballs!” And then we end with another sign of the cross as I try desperately not to roll my eyes and to remember that they are only four.
My older son also has gotten into the recent stab at a prayer routine. If my husband tucks him in, he will send him back out and tell him mommy needs to do the prayer. Unlike the twins, he won’t try and copy, he will just lie down and listen. And sometimes he will cover himself with his blanket which can frustrate a mama who already knows that he can not hear well without his hearing aids (he takes them off to sleep)… and certainly even worse with a blanket covering his ears.
(Clearly we are far from perfect at prayers in this house, but luckily I don’t think God is looking for perfection.)
Particularly on the nights he is covering his head with his blanket, I find myself just wanting to give up and walk out without asking for moments of gratitude. But he always uncovers his head when he feels me move and looks at me expectantly. So, I walk back to his bed and say close to his ears “Honey, what are you grateful for today?”
And each time, I am surprised by his answers. Why? Well, almost without fail, every day I pick him up he refuses to tell me much about his day or answer any of my questions. He laughs or jokes or tells me he doesn’t want to tell me anything. Sometimes he will say “I’m never gonna tell you.” Basically, the best he will do from when I pick him up until bedtime is give me responses I thought would more likely come from him when he was a teenager. By the time we get to this final question of gratitude, I usually have given up on knowing anything about his day. The first time he uncovered his head and looked at me expectantly, I know I sighed. I know I thought “he is totally gonna give me some jokey answer or say “Nothing!” and then cover back up his head.” Instead, however, he said “I’m grateful you picked me up today.” I smiled and told him I was grateful for that too, and turned to leave. However, he stopped me and said “Wait, I have more.” Then, as I sat back down to listen, he launched into a detailed account of his day and all the things that made him smile. And he has done the same almost every night since.
At the beginning of each school year, we have a bunch of parent meetings at the high school level. And the counselors always remind the parents “You never know when your son’s will stop you and want to talk. And even if it is 2 in the morning and even if you have some pressing deadline, when he is ready to talk, you need to stop and listen.” This Sunday’s reading in the Catholic lectionary is about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man walked by Lazarus every day without ever stopping to listen, and then one day, time was up. There were no more opportunities.
May you and I be given the grace to stop and listen today to those we encounter and let the door to our hearts be open.