Contemplative Prayer: A Way To Help You Be The Parent You Want To Be
One of the ways I’m learning to deal with the enormous responsibility of being a parent is to practice contemplative prayer. I don’t always make time for it, but when I do, I feel better equipped to be the person I need to be for my son, my wife, and really all of the people in my life.
I was first introduced to contemplative prayer in Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. This book was a joyful discovery because before reading it, I really didn’t understand prayer. I learned to pray in Catholic school as a kid, but the way I was taught was essentially to ask God for things. If I was feeling generous, I would thank God for things, too.
Contemplative prayer is different, though. It’s more liberating. And it feels more authentic, especially since I’ve stopped believing that if a person prays hard and/or often enough, their prayers will be answered. I don’t believe this anymore—at least not in the same way I understood it before. I mean, how could God disregard the prayers, for example, of a parent whose child is dying from cancer?
Here’s a passage from When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner:
We can't pray that God make our lives free of problems; this won't happen, and it is probably just as well. We can't ask Him to make us and those we love immune to diseases, because He can't do that. We can't ask Him to weave a magic spell around us so that bad things will only happen to other people, and never to us.
People who pray for miracles usually don't get miracles, any more than children who pray for bicycles, good grades, or good boyfriends get them as a result of praying. But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayer answered.
I think anyone who has truly suffered senses intuitively that suffering is not something inflicted by God; instead, God is with us in our suffering. It’s the distant-but-close, indescribable-yet-undeniable presence of God that gives us the “strength to bear the unbearable,” as Rabbi Kushner puts it.
Contemplative prayer is all about this Divine Presence. It’s a way to feel it, to know it’s there, and to become empowered to act accordingly. The more we practice contemplative prayer, the stronger we become in every aspect of life, including the parts that don’t go well.
The Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion defines Christian contemplative prayer in this way:
In the Christian tradition the early Desert Fathers [and Mothers] referred to HESYCHIA: stillness, quiet and tranquility, the purpose being to create a solitary place where one could still the mind and focus in love on God or on God’s word within. Contemplative Prayer is seen as a relationship with God. It is an opening of one’s mind and heart to the Ultimate mystery and goes beyond thoughts and emotions. It is in this receptive silence and listening that one finds contact or relationship with the Indwelling Trinity.
In many ways, being a parent in itself is “an opening of one’s mind and heart.” By practicing contemplative prayer, it’s possible to expand this opening. Inside each of us is this amazing abundance of love that we have to give to others. We usually know it’s there, but sometimes we aren’t able to feel it.
I know when I’m having a rough day or just feeling stressed, I don’t even give myself the opportunity to feel it. But a few minutes of simply resting in the Divine Presence can quickly transform the way we see ourselves and each other. Personally, I become much more likely to slow down, smile, and actively listen to what others have to say.
This brings us back to the enormous responsibility of parenting. We’re tasked not only with the basics of keeping our children alive, but also nurturing their emotional—and I would argue spiritual—well-being. The only way we can do this is to be our best selves.
With contemplative prayer, we become more aware of the abundance of love and grace and peace within ourselves. And when we recognize this abundance within ourselves, we become more able to share it with others and see it in them, too. The word namaste comes to mind—the Hindu greeting that’s often used as a salutation after a yoga session. It’s often translated as “may the good in me honor the good in you.”
There are many ways to practice contemplative prayer, but here’s what I’ve found works for me:
Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Make sure you have good posture.
Recite or read a short prayer.
Close your eyes, and bring your attention to your breath. Check your posture again.
Count ten breaths and then reflect on the prayer: What does it have to teach you?
Then, let your mind rest. Be open to any thoughts that cross your mind. Let them come and go.
If possible, let yourself be in the space without thoughts. See how long you can stay in this silence.
If we, as parents, can make time for this kind of prayer on a regular basis, we’ll get to know ourselves better—what’s actually on our mind, just beneath the surface. We’ll feel more connected to the world and everything and everybody in it. We’ll have clearer eyes to see our kids for the beautiful miracles that they are. We’ll be able to be the kind of parents we want to be.
In his book Invitation To Love, Thomas Keating writes: “Silence is God's first language; everything else is a poor translation.” May we all prioritize finding the quiet moments, whenever and wherever we can find them. Let’s learn to speak God’s language.