What Did You Do Today?
Every evening my family gathers around our kitchen table for dinner together. We fill each person's plate with food, we pray together, and then we begin to eat. I look to each of my children and ask "What did you do today?" When my older children have been at school all day, I want to know what they did while they were there. The youngest daughter is not in school, so I generally already have a pretty good idea of what she did that day. However, I ask her the question even though I already know the answer.
We recently began watching a series of short daily devotional videos I found on the web at the end of our family dinner. This week the theme of the videos was prayer. The videos explored some of the age old challenges people face when praying. Among these age old challenges is a classic philosophical question related to prayer. If God is omniscient and already knows everything I am thinking and everything that is going to happen, then why should I pray? This is a question philosophers and theologians have grappled with for centuries, and I don't claim to have a definitive and complete treatise on this topic, but I had a few insights from my dinner conversation with my daughter. Why should my daughter tell me about her day when I already know what she did?
For my young daughter who is learning how to talk, this is an opportunity for her to practice her communication skills. She is still learning how to form the sounds and building a vocabulary of words. As she tells us about her day, she is learning how to communicate information to us. The more she exercises these skills, the easier they become. While she initially only talked when we prompted her to talk, over time she gets comfortable communicating and does so more spontaneously and increasingly often. Similarly, when I pray I learn to connect with God. Perhaps I began this communication in formalized settings like prayers before meals or weekly Mass, but if these skills get exercised enough then they become more comfortable and I may begin to communicate with God more spontaneously with increasing frequency.
Asking my daughter to describe her day prompts her to reflect on her experiences and formulate her thoughts and feelings about those experiences. At first, her reports were short and broad. "What did you do today?" "Me saw grandma!" Over time they get more detailed, sometimes with additional prompting from me and eventually without need for additional prompting. "What did you do with Grandma?" "Play on the swing!" Furthermore, I can prompt her to consider how she feels about her experiences. "Did you have fun?" "Yes!" "What was your favorite thing you did today?" "Play with barbies!" Communication like this is not meant to change me, but to change her. She gains a better understanding of her world and her experience of the world as she formulates the ideas she wants to communicate. Similarly, while prayer may not change the mind of an unchanging God, prayer does change me. I gain a better understanding of my experiences as I formulate the ideas I want to communicate to God in prayer. I grow in my understanding of who God is and how God relates to me as I reflect on my day and look to see how God was present and active in my experiences.
Sometimes at family dinner my daughter will bang her cup on the table. I know what she wants. I know I will give her what she wants. However, I still prompt her to ask me for what she wants. "What do you want?" "Me want juice!" "How do you ask nicely?" "Please me have juice?" Though I already know what she wants and I already know I'm going to give it to her, prompting her to ask helps her to understand that she has a need, that I can provide for that need, and that she can trust me to provide for that need. Sometimes I have to say no to her requests. "What do you want for dinner?" "Cookies!" I know better than she does. I know that eating cookies for dinner will be harmful to her over time. "You need to wear your jacket." "No, Daddy!" Then a little while later, "Daddy, I'm cold!" "See, I knew it was cold when I told you to wear your jacket." Through these experiences, my daughters learn to trust me to provide for their needs, and hopefully they learn to trust in my wisdom even when I have to deny a request for reasons that don't make sense to them. By asking God to provide for my needs, I train myself to trust in God's providence and to trust in God's wisdom even when it is hard to understand why he responds to my prayers as he does.
Finally, I love hearing my daughter share about her day. My daughter often explodes with a giggle and smile as she tells me about her day. If I am distracted and not paying attention, she will crawl on the table to get close to my face and shout "Daddy, me talking!" because she is so excited for me to hear what she has to say. Her joy and excitement is contagious. I share in her joy as she tells me how fun her day was. We are deepening the bonds of love between the members of our family as we share in each others joys and sorrows. This is perhaps the best of all reasons to communicate with my family, and it is perhaps the best reason to pray. It is hard to feel connected to a person when I do not communicate with him or her. It is hard to feel connected to God if I do not communicate with Him. I deepen my love for God when I communicate my joys and sorrows with Him in prayer. I share in God's joy as I recognize God's kingdom being built and as I see God's hand at work in my family.
A domestic church should be a place where meals are shared, and as meals are shared, conversations should be shared as well. A domestic church should also be a place where prayers are commonplace. This week, my conversation with my family helped me better understand my conversation with God. Tomorrow morning, when I get out of bed before anyone else in the house and all is quiet, when I sit down with my Bible to talk to God for a few minutes before the chaos of the day sets in, I'll try to to approach my prayer time with the same enthusiasm and excitement as my daughter standing up on her chair at the dinner table to announce what a great day she had.