‘There’s no excuse for not praying for your wife and children every single day.’ I’ll never forget this exhortation my spiritual director gave me several years ago. I already knew the importance of praying for my family, but I needed someone to awaken my heart to this crucial calling of prayer as a father. Ever since, I’ve sought to practice, learn, and grow in the way I pray over my family.
Many days I pray for specific situations and needs that my wife and kids will face. But over the years, I’ve gravitated to another pattern of intercessions over my family. When I’m only focused on the needs of the present moment, my prayers lack vision and insight of God’s will for my family. Instead of limiting my prayers to specific needs, I take verses and phrases from Scripture to intercede for my family. As my 2 year old son grows each day, I often pray that he would ‘grow in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man’ (Luke 2.52). As I pray the psalms in the Daily Office, I often find a phrase that I will pray over my wife and daughter. ‘Send out your light and your truth, let them lead her to your holy hill and to your dwelling.’ (Psalm 43.3).
In recent months, I’ve also drawn on the beautiful collects in the Daily Office to intercede for my family. I’ve grown quite fond of the suggested daily rotation of collects in the ACNA’s Morning and Evening Prayer services. I pray the collects in the sequence of Morning Prayer, but I return to them again during a time of free intercessions. On Mondays, I pray for my family that God would ‘guide our feet into the way of peace.’ On Wednesdays, I return to the phrase ‘that we may not fall into sin nor run into any danger’ and offer this intercession for each person in my family.
A few Fridays ago I was following this same practice of praying scripture and the daily collects, including Jesus’ call to his disciples, ‘take up your cross and follow me,’ as a prayer over my family. The Collect for Friday–which reminds us that every Friday is a commemoration of Good Friday–also directs me to pray that we would ‘walk in the way of the cross.’ And there in the ordinary rhythm of prayer that I’ve grown to know and love so well, I stopped speaking. I choked on the words.
I love these three people with all my heart. I could not bear to think of the crosses that they will bear in this life. It’s a harrowing though to consider what the cross might mean in the lives of those we love. How can I pray this prayer over my children in the midst of their childlike innocence and joy? I want to delay this prayer, postpone it for Lent 2026, not Lent 2016. They’ll need their dad’s prayer for endurance when they hit the cruelties of middle school life, but surely not when they’re in preschool, right?
But then I have to face the denial in my heart that does not lead my family in the way of self-denial. I cannot pretend that the people I love most will somehow be exempt suffering. I cannot deny that their faithfulness to Christ means carrying their own crosses. I want to do that for them, but I can’t. The Lord’s call comes to each disciple, ’If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ I know I’m called to shoulder the burden of their cross, just as Simon of Cyrene walked with Jesus in the hour of our Lord’s exhaustion. But even then, I cannot bring an end to their sufferings, present or future.
In my wrestling with this difficult prayer, I think of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art, a poem composed about the difficulty and denial of loss. Bishop opens the poem expressing her own denial about loss in the first stanza. In subsequent stanzas, she layers a sequence of losses, each one intensifying in personal importance, until she shares in the final stanza the loss of a person she dearly loved. In the final line, she forces herself–Write it!–to face the gravity and truth of her loss.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
I self-talk similar words about the Collect for Friday for my family–Pray it! I have to face the truth of the cross for myself and for my family. But though I may finally be facing the truth about the cross for my family, I feel like another ancient father–Jacob– wrestling with God in a dark place. This prayer is no small moment in my life as a young father. God brought Jacob to Peniel for a reason, and God led me to the Collect for Friday for a reason. God led me here to see his truth anew. ’God made foolish the wisdom of the world,’ which means the best wisdom for husbands and fathers in this world (and for all of us) is still foolishness without the cross. My best love for my family still needs to be baptized in the death and resurrection of Christ. Without the cross, I can only lead the people I love most to a finite and limited joy. With the cross, trusting in the ‘foolishness of the cross,’ I can draw on the strength and wisdom of God as I intercede for my family, praying that Christ would lead them to his infinite, unlimited joy.
Praying the cross over my family is a pivotal point, but I also know this is only the first test of many. It is not enough to pray the Collect for Friday once. This is a prayer to be learned, memorized, and prayed for a lifetime. So also the prayers and words of the cross in intercession for my family. I train my mind, my soul, my heart–even my body–to pray this prayer so that when involuntary suffering comes to our family, I will remember the greatest truth about the cross–only the cross leads to ‘the way of life and peace.’
I’m grateful that the Collect for Friday implies a kind of pilgrimage, a search. It is both a personal and communal search. We ask God, ‘Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.’ I suppose each family is that little church where we help, encourage, and pray for one another to find that the way of the cross is truly the only way of life and peace.
In my life as a father, it’s not enough to preach that Gospel on Sunday morning. It means preaching that Gospel to myself, praying that Gospel habitually so that I believe it in the depths of my heart, not for myself alone, but also for those I love most. Fridays may be like Peniel for the rest of my life and maybe they ought to be. But I take comfort that Peniel was the place Jacob could say he saw the face of God. And to see the face of the heavenly Father is to face a love who freely gave his only begotten Son so that all men, women, and children would be saved.
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