Common Prayer and Common Life

Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.

We are a liturgical family. I am drawn to the liturgical church for many of the same reasons I am drawn to the performing arts: pageantry, pomp and circumstance, an abundance of gorgeous fabrics. But at its essence, liturgy offers me something even more: a bedrock for my faith, an ordering, as “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” says in The Book of Common Prayer, of my common life.

The seasons of the liturgical calendar shape my family just as surely as the school calendar, perhaps even more so. Over Labor Day weekend I put away the kiddie pool, chop off five inches of my summer-stained hair, and transfer all the school dates into our family calendar…tasks that should have been done last weekend, before my children started school, but I was clinging to summer as if there would be one final benediction after the postlude. And then I transfer the liturgical calendar: All Saints. Christ the King. First Sunday of Advent.

“Fall doesn’t start until the Pancake Breakfast at church,” my 14-year-old daughter announces, as she has announced every year since she was in kindergarten. The Pancake Breakfast is not exactly liturgical, as you won’t find it in any lectionary, but it is sacrosanct in our church (and our family) nevertheless.

We are a liturgical family. We kneel in church. We stand to say the creed. We celebrate Christ the King. We eat pancakes. And as my fifth and youngest child climbs up the huge bus steps on his way to kindergarten, I pull out The Book of Common Prayer and flip to the marriage liturgy, because the prayers here are beautiful and relevant for so much more than a wedding day. They order my common life.

And I pray, for myself, my husband, my children:

Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.

Ah, Dear Lord. As the mother of children with special needs, you know I know a lot about “wills.” Bend these strong wills, Lord, to yours. Grant abundant grace in the middle of a meltdown, or when one is perseverating, to soften the will, to redirect. Give us grace, too, to know when what looks like a show of will is actually an expression of need. Hold our hearts within yours. Help us grow in love and peace.

Give us grace, Lord, to know when what looks like a show of will is actually an expression of need.

Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.

Give us grace, Lord, to do what seems impossible. If this beautiful language was written as a goal on an IEP, I would be raising my hand, interrupting the special education team, arguing that this is too much. My children can’t do this. I can’t do this. Not even if 80% accuracy equals mastery. Thank you that we do not have to do this alone, for it is only with your strength that it becomes possible.

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

Too often I am just praying for your grace in getting my children through the day, Lord. And I know you are calling me to pray for more. You have given my children such unique gifts and talents; give them opportunities to use those talents for you. Let them, in addition to making it through the day, use their days to bless others. Help their quirky little lights to shine brightly in this world.

Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.

My children’s “love and concern for others” doesn’t always manifest in expected ways, but you and I know it’s there, Lord. Give them opportunities to show this love. Give others the ability (and sometimes the grace) to receive it. You have given us, Lord, “the gift and heritage of children.” Give us now “the grace to bring them up to know you, to love you, and to serve you.”

Grant that the bonds of our common humanity, by which all your children are united one to another, and the living to the dead, may be so transformed by your grace, that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven; where, O Father, with your Son, and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign in perfect unity, now and for ever.

 Amen.

(All quotations taken from “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” from The Book of Common Prayer, copyright 1979.)

Elrena Evans

Elrena Evans is Editor and Content Strategist for Evangelicals for Social Action, and holds an MFA in creative writing from Penn State. She is the author of a short story collection, This Crowded Night, and co-author of the essay collection Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. Her work has also appeared in Plough, Red Letter Christians, In Touch Magazine, Princeton Theological Seminary’s The Thread, and elsewhere. She enjoys spending time with her family, dancing, and making spreadsheets. Follow her on Instagram @elrenaevans.
Elrena Evans

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