Things were frantic at my house on Sunday mornings of my childhood. Often, my dad would have to be at church early for meetings, so it would be left to my mom to wrangle the six of us kids. We’d wake slowly, after lots of reminders. One sister would cry, inevitably, about breakfast. There was definitely no spirit of calm or love in the air with frantic searches for once-a-week-worn shoes abandoned seven days ago and conflicts over mirror space.
“Put on a slip!” my mom would yell. “That’s your brother’s tie!” Her voice would rise in pitch and volume. Heaven forbid someone asked to wear a sweater vest instead of a tie—sacrilege.
By the time we’d all be in the car, squished into the Dodge Caravan or, later, Chevy Suburban, attending church seemed the last thing we were ready for that day. We’d be grumpy, uncomfortable, probably awaiting a threatened punishment for when we got home after services. Mom would yell about tardiness up until the door of the vehicle finally slammed shut. Then, a whole new woman would appear.
She’d fold her arms on the steering wheel, close her eyes and shake her head a bit to clear out the cobwebs and speak with a different sort of pitch in her voice, which we hadn’t heard all morning. And she’d pray.
The switch, so fast you might miss it and wonder why everyone else had their eyes closed, always bothered me. I can’t change my emotions so quickly, going from yelling to prayer. It felt insincere, hypocritical, annoying. Afterward, she wouldn’t let us turn on the radio, leaving us to drive in either silence or as audience to her lecture.
And yet, one thing I took from my childhood is a knowledge of my mother’s faith. She was a believer and a Christian, not just on Sundays or in public. Yes, she was crazy sometimes, especially in the morning. But she never failed to start the day, sending her children out into the world, with prayer. It bothered me as a teenager, and it seemed like a habit designed to make me late for any and all activities. We took turns praying over meals and other occasions, but morning rush prayers were all Mom.
I’m a mother now myself. I pray more as a parent than I did in the previous 28 childless years combined. Most of my prayers are silent and on the go, as I try to know what my sons need. I rely on God, who I believe knows these boys better than I, asking for a glimpse of their essential needs and their potential as human beings. For years, I begged in the night for sleep, sure that any kind of loving God would answer such sincerity. These weren’t trite or repetitive prayers, rather those born out of desperation when my eyes would hurt from trying to keep them open.
Once my boys weren’t with me all the time, especially as I got used to them being in another’s care, I’d pray briefly for them to be happy, to know they were loved and to be safe. Sometimes, I’d pray that they’d get what they needed from someone other than me since I knew I wasn’t doing it all so great.
As soon as my oldest started preschool, we began to pray in the car each day before pulling out of the driveway. Seat belts go on, the radio goes off, and I pray for our day. When my husband does school drop-off, he’s annoyed by the little voices from the backseat asking for prayers; it isn’t his routine, and he’s not especially chatty in the morning. But when your child requests a prayer to calm and settle him as he begins a day, it brings out your best self. Besides, they tattle if Dad tries to head out without a moment of prayer.
So I am grateful, in the end, for the car prayers of my youth. It isn’t the tradition I ever would have expected to adopt, but there’s a certain grace and utility to it. Of all my many failures and inadequacies, I hope my children see that I want the best for them and that I’m willing to call on help from outside sources.