Kimberly Knowle-Zeller shares a story about prayer during ordinary, sacred moments. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Paul Engel on Unsplash
O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall proclaim Your praise.
Settled in the darkness, before my alarm goes off, I hear six-year-old Charlotte’s voice declare, “Once upon a time.” I turn my ear toward the door and listen as she continues to talk to everyone and to no one at the same time. I hear her feet pitter patter on the wood floors and books being organized on the bookshelf. With every movement, her voice offers a story.
When I reach her room, I peer inside and see her Elsa doll in a small crib next to her stuffed animals. Each of them perched upright, listening intently.
“Were you reading to your dolls and stuffed animals?” I ask her.
“Yes, this is school and I’m the teacher. See, here’s my book.” She sits down on her bed and proceeds to tell a story.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
At lunch time, as light snow falls, three-year-old Isaac and I turn on Christmas music and nibble on finger foods. The two of us have found our own rhythm during the school day while Charlotte’s gone. Much of this time revolves around snacks. I’m still eating when Isaac stuffs the remaining grapes in his mouth, “Can I play, please?”
“Finish chewing first, and then you can for a few minutes, and then it’s nap time.” I tell him as I say every day after lunch. There’s only a little bit more time before I have a few minutes of quiet.
Isaac wipes his mouth with his napkin, jumps down on the floor, gets on his belly and grabs a car. He winds the car through his blocks, “choo choo, coming through.” His body snakes along the floor, his feet sway in circles in the air. I grab the dishes and move them to the kitchen sink.
Coming back into the dining room I find Isaac sitting on his knees taking out blocks and putting them on top of one another. “Look, mommy, look.”
“I see, and now it’s time to take a nap; let’s go, buddy.”
He keeps playing and seems to ignore me until I hear his voice, “I’m not tired. I just want to play with my toys.” I take a deep breath before scooping him up in my arms. My mind pictures the reheated coffee and the book I’d like to crack open, or the google doc with essay ideas I want to flesh out, or just the silence of sitting on the couch. He may not be tired, but I am.
I take him to the bathroom and as we’re heading to his room he has yet one more request, “Can we read a book in my room?” I look at the clock. The moments tick away from my quiet time, but I still say yes.
“But only a short one.” I say.
“Okay!” He runs to his book shelf, “Hmmm, this one?” He shows it to me with a smile.
I nod my head and he lifts his arms to me once again. We sit together in the rocking chair, the weight of his body against me, a reminder that soon he may not fit like this.
Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.
Let Your light scatter the darkness and illuminate your church.
Seated around our dining room table we see the setting sun through the living room window. Shades of pink and purple mingle across the horizon. Both kids bounce up and down on their chairs seated on their knees.
Isaac tries to put a spoonful of peas in his mouth. “Wait, it’s time to pray first.” I remind him. “Let’s pray.”
Together our four voices join in: Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
No sooner than we finish the final Amen do the kids have their spoons back in their mouths. For a few minutes we only hear silverware clanking and mouths chewing. Charlotte continues to bounce up and down, never sitting still, until she puts her spoon down and looks me directly in the eyes: “I love you, Mama.”
Before I get a chance to respond she puts her arm on Stephen’s shoulder, “I love you, Daddy.” Another quick turn and she’s looking at Isaac, “I love you, Isaac.”
I turn to the window to see the last remaining colors fade into the horizon, a small glimmer of light left. Soon the skies will be dark and the stars will shine.
Isaac breaks my thoughts with his own chorus of words, “I love you, Charlotte. I love you, Mommy. I love you, Daddy.”
We all respond together: “We love you.”
Now in peace I will lie down and sleep;
You alone, O God, make me secure.
I haven’t reached the door of Charlotte’s bedroom before her voice calls me back, “Stay here.”
Standing next to the light switch, I reassure her, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Stay here, Mama.”
I flick the switch bringing darkness into the room. “I love you. I’m not going anywhere.”
We do this every night. I wonder if she’s picking up on my worries about the world, or perhaps it’s due to her being away for the first time all day at kindergarten. Some nights my patience wanes. Some nights I climb back in bed with her and feel the weight of her body next to mine, our hearts beating together.
Every night, back and forth, she wants me to stay, and I assure her I will. Eventually I take my leave. As I walk down the hallway I hear her voice one more time, “Don’t go anywhere.”
I keep the monitor close to me and watch for her body to be still, sleep taking over her. It’s not until I watch her sound asleep that I leave the monitor and relax into the quiet of the night. Before finally resting myself there are the dishes to clean, toys to pick up, emails to answer, and lunches to prep. I check the monitor occasionally to make sure she’s still asleep.
Later when I’m ready for bed, sitting in my chair with my Bible and journal, I offer my own prayers to God. I give thanks for the day. I vent about the lack of time to get anything really cleaned or picked up. I dream about writing projects I’d like to tackle. I list the names of friends and family holding heavy secrets and pain. I both cry out to God and marvel at God’s presence. I hear Charlotte’s voice from earlier in the night, “Stay here, Mama,” and I realize my prayers are not much different than my daughter’s.
My own prayers rise up, “Stay here, God. Be with me. Be with our world.”
I listen to the chorus of insects outside my window, I see the moon’s light, and in the stillness, I hear God’s response: I love you. I’m not going anywhere.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
*Book of Common Prayer (Church Publishing, 1979) & Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2006)
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is a pastor in the Lutheran church, writer, and mother living in Central Missouri with her husband and two children under 6. Her stories on faith and motherhood have appeared in The Christian Century, Living Lutheran, The Episcopal Cafe, Coffee + Crumbs, and more.