“Kids, why are you staring at me when we pray?” I demanded. Max’s answer was simple: “Because we like to watch you pray.”
by Becky Arganbright
One of my biggest pet peeves is to be stared at. I get very self-conscious. You never know why people are looking—is there something in my teeth that you’re staring at or is it that big zit on my face?
For some reason, my children tend to stare at me while I pray, and I find myself distracted by their stares. It bothers me so much, even to the point of interrupting to say, “Why are you staring at me?!”
Of course, I realized this was bad behavior on my part, but like I said, it grates on my nerves. So one day I plopped down a big statue of the Virgin Mary along with a crucifix on the table as a focal point for the kids. But when I opened my eyes . . . my kids were still staring at me!
“Seriously, what is the deal?!” I thought to myself, exasperated, as I tried to redirect their focus by pointing meaningfully to the crucifix and statue. The kids shifted their eyes back to the statue but only a few minutes later, they were back to staring at me again. I knew I couldn’t let it distract me so I just shut my own eyes and tried hard to focus on my own prayers. But as soon as the prayers were finished, I demanded, “Kids, why are you staring at me?? What is so interesting about me that makes you stare at me when we pray??? You should be focusing on your own prayers. Your eyes should be on Jesus and Mary, not me!”
Max put it simply: “We like to watch you pray.”
Max’s simple explanation left me a little speechless. What could I say???
Watch and learn
Now I know I am no saint when I pray— though I probably look like one, because I tend to put my head in my hands, as though I am in deep communion with God. But all I’m really trying to do is focus on prayers and block everything else out. I had no idea that I was so interesting to watch when I pray. But all of this made me realize how much kids learn from us by simply watching.
Now my mind flew back to a time when I had watched my own mother pray. I noticed as we prayed the rosary that every time we came to the name of Jesus, she would automatically bow her head. She did this with the next Hail Mary, and the next, and the one after that. Pretty soon, I was bowing my head along with her, although I had no idea why.
“Mom, why do you always bob your head up and down so much during the rosary?” I asked her after the rosary was finished.
Unlike me, the fact that I had been watching her pray didn’t seem to bother her. “Because it’s Jesus’ name,” she answered.
“Why do you bow your head at Jesus’ name?” I asked.
“Because in the Bible it says that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:10-11). It’s a way of showing reverence to His name.”
My simple answer probably didn’t tell her that she taught me something very profound that day, and she would probably be surprised to learn that, ever since that day, I have been bowing my head at the name of Jesus because I had watched her pray.
Learning to pray through imitation
I went to bed that night with a lot to think about. It never occurred to me that throughout my childhood, I had learned to pray by watching my own parents pray.
But as snippets of memories came back to me, I realized that I had watched my parents pray quite a bit. The way my mom’s voice became soft with emotion as she prayed her Hail Marys, the way my Dad’s eyes would focus on something that was beyond my own sight. I remember how reverent they both became; they were very down to business with their prayers. I knew better than to interrupt their conversation with God with any silly behavior from me. Without even realizing what I was doing, I began to imitate their prayerful attitudes. I wanted to see what they saw.
In St. Therese’s Story of A Soul, she writes: “…I listened carefully to the sermons, but I looked more frequently at Papa than the preacher, for his handsome face said so much to me! His eyes, at times, were filled with tears which he tried in vain to stop; he seemed no longer held by earth, so much did his soul love to lose itself in the eternal truths.”
They say that babies learn through imitation and this continues throughout childhood. It is easy to forget sometimes that a lesson can be taught by good example, even when you aren’t trying.
I still bring out the statue of Mary and the crucifix as a focal point for prayer. I still squirm a little when I realize that my kids are once again, watching me while I pray. But I no longer object.
Now, I just simply close my eyes and bow my head, and hope they will do the same.