I’ve always been pretty big on prayer. Praying regularly helps me feel connected to God and also to Judaism in general. Prayer brings me comfort. It often gives me strength. And while these days I often find myself squeezing it in on the fly, it’s something I still do my best to make time for.
Most mornings I try to pray a little while nursing my daughters, and every Friday night when I light candles for Shabbat, I say my own made-up prayers as I get ready to close out the week.
I’ve noticed, however, that many of my prayers involve me asking for things—health, happiness, the strength to keep my cool when my young children all gang up on me. So this past weekend during Tot Shabbat services, I had a bit of an epiphany: I need to start praying the way my 3-year-old does (or rather, is encouraged to).
Though we’ve been attending Tot Shabbat services for quite some time, it was only recently that I’d started paying attention to what’s written in the kiddie prayer books. That’s probably because up until now, most of my energy was spent focusing on my toddler and making sure he was reasonably behaved. But now that he’s getting older, he’s learning to actually sit still and listen, which makes Tot Shabbat far more enjoyable and much less stressful.
Since I actually had time to catch my breath at the last service, I noticed that most of the Tot Shabbat prayers focus on praising and thanking God. Rather than ask for things, the kids are encouraged to say thank you and then acknowledge the specific things they’re grateful for. And I think that’s what I should be doing more of as well.
When I was a child, I was taught to rise in the morning and recite the Modeh Ani, the prayer of thanks. It’s actually one of my favorite “official” prayers (I often find more meaning in constructing my own), but these days, when I say it, I’m mumbling it under my breath in a foggy, groggy, exhaustion-induced stupor. Most mornings I don’t wake up feeling all that rested; I wake to the sound of a child crying out to be fed. And so when I mutter the Modeh Ani en route to the bathroom, where I spend 30 glorious seconds tending to my own biological needs before diving into childcare mode, I often do so without much meaning.
But I’m working on changing that, because the Modeh Ani is important, and not just in the morning. I think I’d actually be much better off as a person if I were to adopt Modeh Ani as a way of life. Rather than harp on what I need or what I’m missing, it would be wonderful to focus my prayers on saying thank you—on acknowledging all I’ve been given and showing my appreciation as the chosen recipient of said blessings.
It’s human nature to be driven to ask for things, and I’ll continue to do so as appropriate. Sure, I’ll still grumble when my baby monitor goes off at 5:00 a.m., and I may even “pray” for five more minutes of rest before diving into the madness that is my every day. But I’m going to try to focus on that first Modeh Ani, and on whatever subsequent versions of it I manage to work into my irregularly scheduled prayers—because the way I see it, the more often I say thank you to God, the more I’ll actually mean it.