Tip #2: Nighttime Blessings.
Over thirty-two years ago at a men’s group I attended, a good friend posed a challenge to me. “For seven consecutive nights, when you put your kids to bed, lay your hand on each one’s head and ‘bless’ them.” I agreed to the challenge, though somewhat reluctantly, thinking it might be a bit awkward, both for me and for the kids. Oh, they had heard me pray plenty of times – at meals and on other occasions – but this seemed a little contrived. Nevertheless, I committed to seven days, and was determined to follow through by “blessing” my 4-year-old, 3-year-old, and 1-year-old.
On the first night, I started with the youngest, probably so I could “practice” on someone who was less intimidating. I bent over the crib, placed my hand on her little bald head, and uttered something like, “Lord, please bless little Hannah with peaceful sleep and sweet dreams” and perhaps another simple request or two. I ended with a kiss on her forehead as she just lay there and smiled. That wasn’t so hard, I thought. One down, two to go.
Next was 3-year-old Dena, curious and inquisitive. A simple blessing couldn’t suffice; she would require an explanation. I explained that I just wanted to ask Jesus to bless her. I stroked her silky hair as I asked God to watch over my little girl and give her a happy, healthy day tomorrow.
Our 4-year-old Nathan, always a quiet observer, asked no questions. As he got his blessing, I knew the wheels were turning silently in his head as he pondered this odd new ritual. Like the others, he also got a hug and kiss.
Nights two, three, and four went pretty much the same, except that I found myself lingering a little longer over each one and changing up the blessings a little. Each night, new things came to my mind to pray for each child. I found myself not only asking God to bless each one, but thanking God for each one. The kids were hearing me tell the Lord how much I loved them…how special they were…how unique they were. By the end of the week, the older two were scampering into bed without their usual stall tactics. As I approached Dena, she was grinning, eyes squeezed tightly shut in eager anticipation of a fresh blessing.
Seven consecutive nights of blessings made an unexpected impact on me. I couldn’t help but notice that bedtime was becoming calmer. It felt great to know that I closed each busy day with a tender point of connection with each of my kids. Every night the blessings grew gentler, more intimate, and more specific. I tried to imagine how it must feel for a small child to hear their Daddy say nice things about them to Almighty God.
I didn’t stop at seven nights. Although I never actually made a conscious decision to continue the blessing my kids each night, I continued the routine. Not because I'm so disciplined, but simply because I enjoyed it so much. Weeks turned into months, and months into years. It’s been somewhere around 12,000 nights, and now my oldest seven are parents themselves. Now, blessings from their lips go to God’s ears on behalf of their children. My five youngest are still at home, and they still get blessed at night. I don’t bless them in their beds as often (although sometimes I do), but I do bless them – individually, specifically, intimately. Four of them are young ladies whom I hug, and with my bristly cheek against theirs, I whisper loving words of blessings into their ears. They hear me tell God how pleased I am with their character, their kind deeds to others, and their wise choices. They hear me ask for God’s favor on their efforts and dreams. I speak health into their bodies, courage into their hearts, and life into their endeavors. I ask God to guide their steps, and bless their future spouses. My son’s blessings often come with a strong bear-hug. I let him hear me marvel at the things God planted inside him. I tell the Lord how proud I am of a young man who loves Him and his family and isn’t ashamed to say so. I ask God to anoint his talents, guard his heart, fill him with understanding beyond his years, and fill his life with purposeful adventures. Sometimes I tickle him or wrestle with him at the end of the blessing.
After 12,000 nights of blessings I’ve learned that there is no end to the countless ways God would love to bless them, so I just keep asking. I try to find out their needs throughout the day so I can pray specifically and personally for them.
What has this got to do with praying as a family? Prayers of blessing have been woven into the fabric of our family culture. Going to bed without a blessing (which does happen on occasion) feels odd, kind of like going to bed without eating supper. These nightly blessings have brought God a little closer, helping us sense the reality of His presence in our home. I suggest that you try it for yourself for a week. Imagine the natural impact these blessings could have on the way your kids see prayer, which leads to the subject of my next post.
Next: Tip #3: Siblings Praying for Siblings.
Recently, several people have asked me for specific tips for successfully praying together as a family. While I’m certainly no expert, I’ll be happy to share what we do if it can be of help to anyone. The things I share will reference our family in its current form, which consists of Jan, myself, and our five remaining children at home, ages 21 through 11. (Our seven oldest kids have families of their own. Don’t ask me how we did things back then…I can’t remember that far back!)
With all our imperfections, one thing that I’m grateful for in our home is that we pray together. It’s gradually become a part of our climate. We do it fairly regularly, and it feels pretty natural. I’d even say that we do it somewhat casually, sometimes at the drop of a hat. There’s no occasion or issue that we can’t pray about. What I appreciate most of all is that every one of the kids seems comfortable participating. No one is afraid of their family members hearing them pray. It’s as natural as carrying on a conversation. In fact, that’s exactly what it is – prayer for us is consciously including God in our conversations.
How did we become comfortable praying together? Over the next few blogs, I thought I would share specifics about how we are learning to pray together. Here’s the first one:
Tip #1: It starts with you.
My family’s prayer habits start with me. I don’t want to sound narcissistic, but I’ve seen it time and again that a huge chunk of what my family experiences as a group is a reflection of what’s going on in my own life. If my self-control weakens and I buy ice cream, everyone else is likely to cave eventually. If I sulk around the house, the overall atmosphere becomes moodier. If I’m feeling silly, others join in the silliness. And if talking to God, whether silently or out loud, is natural for me, it will gradually become natural for them, too. It’s all about modeling. If there is a magic shortcut for teaching my kids to do something, I’ve not found it. They will more likely discover Christ to be real in their lives if they see over a period of time that He has been consistently real in mine. That’s a fact – a responsibility – that I can’t dodge.
Please don’t think that I see myself as some great prayer hero, because I know for a fact that I’m not. Sadly, I forget to check in with the Lord sometimes, much like I might fail to notice a family member in the room or a grandchild who entered my office if I’m too preoccupied. Sometimes I rush ahead with my “great idea” without talking it over with God, forgetting that if you “acknowledge Him in all your ways, He will direct your steps” (Proverbs 3:6). When I rush ahead without consulting with Him, I invariably pay the price.
But with all my flaws, the truth is that I definitely pray more than I used to. Much more. Pain, failure, and hardship have driven me to my knees. At this stage of my life (I’ll turn 58 in a couple of days) I’m not sure I ever go through a day prayerless anymore. If so, it’s rare. That’s because my limitations require it. It’s like getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I mean no disrespect by this comparison, but I just can’t go as long as I used to without praying. There’s too much at stake.
Here’s my routine: On a typical day, I wake up around 5:30-5:45am, the house dark and quiet. As I lie there transitioning from partially to fully awake, my first conversation of the day with my Maker takes place in my mind. I thank Him for the peaceful rest, for watching over my family all night long, for allowing me another day to breathe, to love, and to be loved, things like that. I tell Him that I love Him, and that as He helps me, I’m willing to serve Him today. Then, if Jan’s awake, we’ll pray together in bed. If she’s not awake, I whisper a quick blessing over her. From there, I may go to my office, take a walk on the treadmill, or perhaps drive to a faraway appointment. Whichever, I pick up my conversation with Him where we left off, only this time I’m trying to listen. If I’m in my office, my Bible is open and so is my heart, receptive to whatever specific things He wants to point out to me. If I’m driving, I keep the radio off for about an hour or so, chatting with Jesus out loud. I talk a little, but I try to listen more, because when I do lots of fascinating promptings and perspectives come to my mind.
Usually as I go through my work day, I’m aware that God is close by. Maybe because my mind was tuned in to Him early the awareness just lingers; I don’t exactly know. But I know that He rarely distracts me from my work; on the contrary, as I focus on the task at hand, that inner awareness makes me feel like the two of us are working as a team. Typically, I’ll find myself saying things under my breath like “What do You think?” or “I need Your help with this.” I think and talk and work like He is actually with me because He actually IS.
At the end of the day when I go home and join the family for supper, I guess it just seems only natural to include the Lord then, too, and all evening long while we’re at it since we’ve hung out together all day. Then come the kids’ bedtimes.
Ah, bedtimes! Those amazing prayer opportunities deserve a blog post of their own. That’s for next time.
Does anybody else hate to wait?
When Jan finally persuaded me that we could raise chickens, I plunged right in building the best henhouse I knew how. I gave it more size, comfort, and options than any chicken needs. The way I figured, happy chickens would mean more eggs. Jan said we could expect to see eggs in about 16 weeks. I was confident that my extra effort would have our hens cranking them out in 12-14 weeks, tops.
But as we approached 19 weeks, the only egg we experienced was a big goose egg. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
I cleaned the coop, adjusted their lighting, added fresh straw to their nesting boxes, changed their feed, and let them free range longer each day. Still no results. A couple of times I found myself loitering at the chicken coop, as if staring at them could intimidate them into laying. "A watched pot never boils" ran through my head. I was half tempted to stick them in a boiling pot.
Today, on day one of their 19th week, we got our breakthrough! It's only one egg, but hopefully it's a start of grander, more glorious omelets to come.
Have you been waiting for results? To sign the deal? Strike oil? Pass the exam? Conceive? Go into labor? Receive the check? Get the lab results? Get a proposal? Get some answers? Waiting is HARD, isn't it?
I'm in the process of learning how to wait for more things than eggs. As a writer who submits manuscripts for my livelihood, it sometimes feels like waiting is at the top of my job description list. I. DON'T. LIKE. IT. Wait for a reply from the agent...wait for a reply from the editor...wait for the decision of the committee...wait for the contract...wait for the check...AAAUGHH!!! As weeks turn into months, I can find myself stressing, pressing, and obsessing. But there are other options. Here are 4 things I'm learning to practice while I W.A.I.T.
What are you waiting for that seems to be taking too long? Do you have any "waiting" insights, encouragements, or experiences that might help someone else? I would love to hear them!
The phone rang around dusk yesterday, October 15, 2015. My oldest son said, “Dad you really need to take a look at the sky right now.” I headed to the porch where I was treated to a magnificent spectacle in our Northern Michigan sky. A stunning double rainbow could be seen from end to end, stretching over blazing autumn leaves more colorful than cameras could adequately record.
Those familiar with the account of Noah and his ark know the significance of a rainbow. It is a promise. God promised He would never again wipe life off the entire earth by a universal flood. Whatever other ways the meaning of the rainbow has been hijacked today, to me it will always mean that God made a promise. Never again. And He has kept that promise.
Now, when I make a promise (which I've learned to make sparingly), I try very hard to keep it. I vowed to my wife I would never abandon her. I've told my kids I will never stop loving them. Have you ever tried to coax a timid child to risk sharing her opinion? If she said, "Promise not to laugh?" your reassuring response might be, "I would never do that." But what if that sincere and innocent opinion comes out in such an unexpected funny way a is just too unbearably cute to hold a straight face? Can you keep that promise? An argument could be made that perhaps it's safer not to make "never" promises. The age old cliché "never say never" (first recorded, by the way, in 1837 by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers) may be a safe general rule of thumb for humans to live by.
But the Rainbow-Maker -- the Promise-Maker/Promise-Keeper -- has dared to say "never" quite a few times. Here are a few interesting examples for your encouragement:
1) "He will NEVER allow the righteous to be shaken" (Psalm 55:22). And that's precisely why, if you are His child, you can "cast your burden upon the Lord." ANY burden. EVERY burden. YOUR burden.
2) "...the God of Heaven will set up a Kingdom that will NEVER be destroyed" (Daniel 2:44). Imagine a homeland where no threat of terror. No fear of nuclear annihilation. No moral decay. No economic crash. No climate scares. No government oppression. No dishonest politicians to throw out of office. And in this country, God has made a clear and simple way to immigrate and become a legal citizen!
3) "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will NEVER go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will NEVER thirst" (John 6:35). Captain Barboza on Pirates of the Carribbean felt an insatiable desire for an apple that could not quench his desire even if he ate it. Whenever I feast on Jesus and His Word, I invariably find satisfaction instead of disappointment.
4) "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will NEVER walk in darkness…" (John 8:12). As I walk with the Light Himself according to His Word, my mind is illumined by His teachings (Psalm 119:105). The farther I stray from Him, the fuzzier, grayer, and more confusing life gets.
5) "My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall NEVER perish…" (John 10:27-28). "He who believes in Me, if though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will NEVER die…" (John 11:25-26). Most flocks will eventually face the slaughter house. Jesus promises His flock His house.
6) "Love NEVER fails…" (1 Corinthians 13:8). Genuine love cannot be argued away, silenced, eradicated, or disarmed. It accomplishes many things that deceit, threats, money, manipulation, strong-arming, and laws cannot. The effects of its supernatural and sacrificial nature continue once the vessels that carried it are long gone. If this were not so, then why do millions of true followers of God’s love Gift to the world still spread that love all over the globe 2,000 years later?
7) "He has given us new birth…into an inheritance that can NEVER perish, spoil or fade" (1 Peter 1:4). "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will NEVER fade away" (1 Peter 5:4). God’s promises indestructible rewards with an eternal guarantee. There is no better warranty.
8) " NEVER will I leave you; NEVER will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). This is the “double rainbow” of promises. The original language is so emphatic that it literally means “NEVER, NEVER will I fail you; and NEVER, NEVER will I in any way abandon you.”
Are you feeling alone? I thought someone reading this might. I just thought I’d let you know that there is a double rainbow here worth focusing on.
Thanks to my daughter-in-law, Jennifer, who took these shots outside her door near Traverse City, Michigan.
I'm Gary Bower...
...a father with twelve kids, seven of them married with kids. That leaves five still at home. My business partner and best friend, Jan Bower, is an amazing artist who also happens to be my wife of 40 years. For most of those years we made children together; now we just make children's books. Last I checked we have twenty-four grandkids in the cookie jar and one in the oven.