Habit, made daily

No matter how they were passed, I know how almost every day will end: we will pray, and then we will pass around hugs and kisses. Usually showers precede this, almost always stories, and often a meltdown of some sort. But regardless of whether they have wet hair or dry, tear streaked faces or not, the kids always include the same basic prayer:

“Dear God, thank you for this day. Please help me to have a good night sleep, and have no dreams or good dreams, and no thinks or good thinks. Amen.”

Sometimes there’s more, and we as parents add on quite a bit more. But this is the base prayer, so predictable I can mouth along with it. It began when K was having nightmares and we talked about the importance of prayer in controlling our minds. It certainly was comforting for them to think of the protection they were calling upon. But after so many nights being prayed, constant comfort became routine. It’s like our close:

InJesusnameweprayAmen.

The line pours from my mouth just as their line pours from theirs. Then we will hug: seven hugs, counted out, followed by seven kisses, and then “one hug until you’re done.” M started this before K could even give hugs, and it’s stuck for a good four+ years. The counting gave him comfort, just like with the prayers, and routine was born once again.

The problem with routine is that it becomes rote. Mechanical. And if it becomes too mechanical, it can also become void of meaning. I think there’s a fine line between enjoying the comfort of that routine and using it as a substitution for real thought. While I know that God will search a willing mind and understand our true thoughts (1 Chronicles 28:9),  I also know the commandments of the new covenant: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27). And when words pour from my mouth, I’m pretty sure I’m not loving with all my mind.

I love routine. I’m a total creature of habit. Kids are even more so, taking comfort in even the smallest of routines. But it occurred to me, mouthing along, hugging by habit, that I was no longer using my whole mind. How easily Satan can use even the act of prayers to separate us from the active nature of God’s amazing love, and the love that we can share with one another.

Our prayers may look the same tonight. Hugs too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with routine. But I do think it’s healthy to be aware of routine, to ask yourself if you are loving with all your mind. To focus on each word and action, to ask yourself again why you’re doing it–even if you can’t remember how it started, you can remember why it started, and why it continues. To say these words slowly and deliberately, imparting them both with the fullness of your mind and with a renewed fullness of meaning.

Good thinks, in other words. Even grown ups can use those.

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