“I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.”
—1 Corinthians 14:15
Bedtime prayers once were part of every child’s nighttime routine along with warm baths, teeth-brushing and stories read aloud. But how many parents still kneel with their children before tucking them in every night to offer bedtime prayers?
Surprisingly, many Catholics still heed the advice from Thessalonians, which urges us to “pray without ceasing.” A 2013 Pew Research Poll found that more than half of Americans pray every day, while a similar 2012 poll discovered that over 75 percent believe prayer is an important part of daily life.
Even recent scientific research confirms that prayer offers people important psychological benefits in addition to the spiritual benefits they seek. A 2014 Psychology Today story noted five scientifically supported benefits of prayer:
- Prayer improves self-control. Studies demonstrate that self-control, like muscle, becomes fatigued and must be exercised regularly to remain strong. Studies demonstrate that prayer can reduce alcohol consumption and has an energizing effect.
- Prayer makes you nicer. Having people pray for those in need reduced the aggression they expressed following an anger-inducing experience.
- Prayer makes you more forgiving. People who pray for the needs of a romantic partner or friend are more willing to forgive others.
- Prayer increases trust. Those who pray together experience feelings of unity and trust, suggesting that praying with others can help build close relationships.
- Prayer offsets the negative health effects of stress. Researchers discovered that people who prayed for others were less vulnerable to the negative physical health effects associated with financial stress. In addition, the focus on others seemed to contribute to the stress-buffering effects of prayer and enhance the overall feeling of wellness.
Still, though prayer is proven to be scientifically beneficial to individuals and society, it is the strong spiritual connection with God that drives us to pray, whether individually, with others or as a family. Both the scientific benefits and the spiritual strength offered by prayer are important reasons why Catholic parents continue the tradition of bedtime prayers.
Rather than the old-fashioned ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ today’s parents teach their children bedtime prayers as simple rituals focused on gratitude, appreciation, thanks and reflection. Bedtime is the perfect opportunity for parents to encourage their young children to stop and remember what has gone well that day, what is good about their life, and what could be better with concentration and effort.
A simple bedtime thank-you may include phrasing like ‘I am so happy about the good things that happened today. Thank you, Lord, for ….’ Or, ‘I did something not so good today, Jesus, when I … Next time this happens – because You want me to behave well – I will know better.’
Prompting children to examine their behavior encourages empathy and maturity, so prayer can double as a lesson and a virtue.
Faced with an increasingly distracting and chaotic world, too many adults and children rush through their days without pausing for thought or reflection. Many of us take our blessings for granted and forget to thank God for the people who love us, the jobs that help put food on our tables, the experiences that make us unique individuals, and the friends who help us through the darkest times.
Pausing at the end of each day in gratitude forces us with to recognize the love and blessings in our lives. Bedtime prayers help relax our anxieties, connect us with our Creator, boost our self-esteem and are a lasting way to help our kids lay the foundation for lasting happiness.