Close your eyes and imagine the following picture. It’s summertime, a hot midday in July. You’re five years old. A huge bumblebee just landed on your outstretched hand. Or, possibly you saw the golden disc of a sunflower for the first time in your life. Or, you picked a strawberry. You’re running barefoot along a sun-heated path towards your old and cozy house to sneak inside its refreshing coolness and flop down on the creaking boards into a big room with a wood stove. That’s where your daddy is reading a book in his armchair. As you run, you’re worried about only one thing—how to reach him as fast as possible. You burst into the room, clamber up on his knees, lean on his chest sputtering with excitement over what you’ve just seen or experienced, and whisper, “Daddy, Daddy!” as if these words have bubbled over from the innermost depths of your heart. He tears himself away from reading his book, hugs you tightly, stroking your hair with his strong and generous hand, and tenderly looks at you while all you can do is to keep saying, “Daddy, Daddy!..” Nothing else is necessary. Your whole world is in these words. And your happiness. No other thing can transmit fatherly love better than a simple touch of your father’s hand as it lovingly strokes your head.
But here you are, all grown-up. You’re far from being a five-year-old. You’ve learned a lot and gained life’s experience. You’re happy around your friends and affectionate with your parents, you can tell funny jokes, or you could even compose poems… You’re creative and jovial, in other words. But when it comes to talking with the One Who is so near, Who awaits so keenly to have our awareness and thought, or for the minute we meant to spend with Him, we for some reason look somber and put on the air of solemnity focusing all our thoughts on reading a prayer book, passionately immersed in prayer. Somehow, we have trouble establishing a personal connection with Him Who is the most Creative, the Dearest, the Most Loving and the Loved One.
For some reason, we have trouble establishing a personal connection with the Dearest, the Most Loving, and the Loved One—with God
It takes a while to find time and we get annoyed if we can’t and we put our conversation away for later. We treat it as if we’re supposed to call the office of the most illustrious personality and have a businesslike conversation. We draw a dividing line between our life, with its pleasures, sadness, jokes, emotions, songs, idle talk with friends, and what’s outside that life, a particularly exclusive, personal side. That’s the one we reserve for our communication with God. As if He isn’t with us when we’re waiting for a bus to come, or He doesn’t enjoy seeing us planting hydrangeas in the garden, or He doesn’t cry with us when we hurt a knee, or fail a job interview. It looks as if we limit ourselves like the prim and proper housewives of old who protected their expensive china set inside the cupboards for a particularly solemn occasion that hardly ever takes place.
We seemingly do it with all good intentions. And why not, isn’t prayer a serious thing? You can’t just start praying at the drop of a hat! We have to mature spiritually, preparing to arrive at it with focus and concentration. Because God Is a serious Person, He’s unlike your neighbor whom you can easily engage in a chat. Besides, there should be a reason for a talk, as you can’t wantonly bug Him. Isn’t that true? Or, maybe it’s not?
Recently, I had a conversation with an old friend who like my husband, a priest, and I, had a young child. She complained that there’s practically no time left for her prayer rule; the exhaustion and lack of daily routine takes its toll, so she wondered: How can one have a baby and keep prayer alive or still lead the spiritual life? How can we, really? In Batiushka’s and my humble opinion, this question concerns not only young mothers. We will share a few simple tips based on our experience but we won’t reinvent the wheel…
First of all, I don’t understand—if He’s the most caring, wondrous, and loving Father, why can’t we appeal to Him with that endearing, exciting “Daddy, Daddy?”
Where do we hide our inner five-year-old child who needs that firm father’s hand so badly? Why do we neglect an open opportunity to clamber up the knees and whisper from the bottom of our heart “Father…?” It seems at times that the saints are just waiting for us to remember them and have a talk with them. That’s what my husband, a priest, and I try to teach our children.
From the very first days of our daughter’s life, we take her in our hands and carry her to the icons after the meal. It sounds so simple! We read the prayers of thanksgiving and show to her the icon of the Lord lit by an oil lamp. Gradually, she begins to focus on things with a conscious gaze, and the joy of a simple appeal to God settles into the recesses of her grateful heart. You may not find time to read the daily prayer rule, but you will surely find time for simpler things! It only gets better from there! There are so many icons in a prayer corner at home! A child takes so much interest attentively absorbing this silent conversation. We don’t read any akathists to the saints or sing the troparions (I don’t even know them by heart!) But what we do is appeal to every saint and gradually build a dialogue with this or that saint while as I hold her in my arms, my daughter scans their faces, taking in the peace, warmth, attention, and love that exudes from these icons. “Rejoice, St. Mitrophan of Voronezh. Pray to God for us!” We step forward to the next icon. “Rejoice, St. Seraphim of Vyritsa, pray to the Lord for us!” We take one more step. “Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina, ask the Lord’s blessing for us on this day!”
Step by step, it all comes to life and gives us a sense of purpose. Every saint is special. Why can’t we speak to them about something so dear to them? Besides, a baby will find it even more interesting. Over time, her soul will feel that it isn’t just an icon but a real person, her friend! “Rejoice, Holy Father Luke! Please pray and help her pass another exam at a medical school!” That’s how my husband calms me down before every test. You take Holy Hierarch Luke by one hand and Venerable Agapitus of the Kiev Caves by another, with Cosmas and Damian standing by—and off you go!
A saint is not simply an image on his icon. He’s a real person, your friend!
Secondly, every more or less church-going Christian likely knows that prayer is a conversation or dialogue. What then could be more lively and diverse than a conversation? We have no specific or strict regimen on how to behave with our parents or siblings; something like, “There are fifty words we have to say in the morning and a hundred in the evening”, or else there will be a fight! Neither do we have any particular obligatory topics of conversation, or only one possible way to address our family members. When you’re calling your mother, all you want is to have a chat with her, or discuss an interesting TV program, or get some insider information about a recipe, or maybe just tell her how much you love her. It often happens that you wake up in the morning and you are desperate to run around the house and hug and kiss everyone like you did in your childhood. Or, the other way around: As you leave your room and see how everyone is peacefully enjoying their morning routine, the aroma of freshly made pancakes wafting from the kitchen… You just greet everyone briefly, take a seat next to the kitchen door and indulge in that sweetly divine fragrance of familial love.
Isn’t this what we experience in our relationship with the Lord and the saints? Because isn’t it true that once in a while we are longing to simply smile and say: “Lord, it’s so good that You exist and I know that You exist!” Or, at other times, all you want to do is to open the Psalter, read it and marvel at its words, so ornate and precise, sweet as honey and luscious like candy, about Him Whom you love so much. That really depends, doesn’t it?
Thirdly, it could be an odd way to do it and we shouldn’t misuse it, but we are often drawn to speak to Him in a straightforward manner. When we grieve, “Daddy, help me!” Or if we are hurt, we slump to the floor before the Lord’s icon, face hidden in hands: “Father, someone offended me so badly, it hurts so bad. You were offended, too, but You forgave them, help me!” Or, if you feel great, you are walking along the street and the lilacs are in bloom, an unfamiliar bird is singing in the tree nearby and the air in May smells delicious, and this same moment will never return as tomorrow will bring something new, but you take a deep breath of this fragrant air and say: “Lord, life feels so good”!
For some reason, we often disregard an opportunity to share our daily joys and sorrows with the Lord, the Most Holy Mother of God, and the saints. Why can’t we simply look in the face of the saints so dear to our hearts and say: “Lord, I love my husband You have given me so much!” Then, smile and continue: “Thank You! Glory to You!” Isn’t this also a prayer? It is, and a very great one! You have no time to read through all the morning and evening prayer rule? Sounds familiar. But it would be wrong to say that you don’t have time for this little bit of prayer.
We often disregard an opportunity to share our daily joys and sorrows with the Lord, the Most Holy Mother of God, and the saints
That’s the only way for us to teach the most important thing to our children: Christ is Life, more alive than others, and more real than you or me. Teach them that He is with you. It is enough to pray next to your child and together with him using simple words that arise from the depths of your heart, avoiding elaborate exultations, kneeling, weeping, or any excesses. It is usually sufficient to speak to Him as a living Person. I was very impressed with the practice by ancient Christians to arrange a table with an extra place set for an additional person. I can’t remember if it was a plate or a bowl. I doubt they had forks then… But I often wish I’d do the same.
A small but telling example. Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina is our daughter’s Heavenly patron. Our baby gets fussy—she pulls a face with brows knit and her little chin wrinkled. When this happens I bring her to the icon of her saint and tell her, “Look, Nina, here’s your holy patron saint, you can complain about anything to her anytime. She is your best friend, the most loyal and faithful one. For life! So, go and complain to her!” My daughter would rumble and grumble studying her saint’s face intently, then her mood lightens up, and soon her baby face is lit with a smile again. May she always know, right from her infancy, that in any trouble, under any challenging circumstances, she can come to the icon and mentally tell her problem to the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Nina.
No matter how old we are, how much life experience we’ve have or how much joy and sorrow we’ve been through, we must keep in mind that it’s there—our home with creaking floorboards, cozy and cool in the heat of the summer. And here it is—a large room with an armchair in the middle, in the most exclusive corner of our soul, and He is always there next to us—He Whom we so long to embrace no matter what’s happened, to clamber onto His knees, lean on Him, and sighing from the fullness of our hearts, whisper: “Daddy, Daddy!..”