Bedtime prayers can go well beyond "Now I lay me down to sleep ..."
Evening prayers is a common staple in many homes. Most of us grew up with bedtime prayers, and whatever the formula, they were usually fairly routine. I’m not the kind of person who finds comfort in routine, though — I get bored quickly, and like to add variety. So as my kids grew, our bedtime prayers also evolved. Eventually, though, they became long, unwieldy, and impractical for toddlers, so I finally decided on a rotation of 3 different ways to pray with my kids before bed — each meeting a particular need for any given day.
This is where evening prayers began for me as a child. My parents always prayed with us, then before they left our rooms they gave us a blessing. That blessing is from Numbers 6:23-27, and it’s a tradition that I passed along to my kids:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
This is a nightly staple — we never skip it, and in that way it’s useful as a “final bedtime” signal for the kids. They know that the blessing means goodnight, for real — no more requests for water or extraneous trips to the bathroom.
At the same time, having established this prayer as the final evening benediction is incredibly helpful on nights that are jam-packed and short on time. On those nights, I dispense with all the other bedtime rituals (stories, songs, longer prayers), give them their blessing, and say goodnight. It’s not ideal, but it does allow for consistent prayer every night — even if it’s less leisurely than we prefer.
2The 3 G's
A few years ago, my dad told me that he’d read a study on people who wrote down 3 things they were grateful for every night before they went to bed. A year later, those people were measurably happier in all areas than other groups whose lives had financially improved — and even more astoundingly, the gratitude group had measurable health benefits with no lifestyle or diet changes.
I decided that day to change my life by writing down three things I was grateful for each night. Spoiler alert: this lasted less than 2 weeks, and did not change my life. But I haven’t forgotten the study, nor the lessons I’ve learned the hard way about how misery compounds misery. So when my kids are feeling sad or, more commonly, feeling resentful, we say the “3 G’s” prayer before bed. Each of us takes a turn to thank God for three things we’re grateful for. There are no limits, so while some of my kids will choose an event from the day, others will choose the same 3 things every time. But that’s okay. The point isn’t to try and force them into gratitude, it’s to give them a space to find gratitude within themselves, and make sure it’s aimed at the proper source — Christ.
3Jesus, Take the Wheel
Yes, okay, I named this one after those endless (and hilarious) internet memes. But this is actually one of the most beneficial types of prayer — especially once your kids start reaching the teen years. This is the prayer we pray when we’re struggling with something we don’t know how to handle, whether a fight with a friend or the loss of a family member. It’s more than just a cry for help — I encourage my kids to talk to Jesus the way they talk to me, explaining the situation, how they feel about it, and asking Him to help them figure out what to do or just help them feel okay if there’s nothing they can do. It’s especially helpful in situations where I’m in over my head, because it shows my kids that there is someone else there — someone who loves them even more than I do, and who will always take care of them. And sometimes it helps me get a different perspective on the situation, allowing me to see a better way to help … or the importance of letting them struggle through it on their own.
Raising kids is not for the faint of heart. It’s the hardest job in the world, because our whole hearts and souls are bound up in these little people. For that reason alone, it’s not just a good idea to end each day in prayer — it’s vital, both for your kids’ spiritual well-being and for your own.
5 Great bedtime books for Catholic kids