We hold kneeling prayer together as a family every evening. We started this practice when we were first married and it has evolved over the years into a somewhat formal activity.
A wheel chart on the wall that tells whose turn it is to act as voice for the prayer. We begin by singing a religious song selected by whoever acted as voice for the previous evening's prayer. We kneel in a circle and hold hands as the prayer is voiced. Then we turn in our scriptures to where we left off the previous evening and each of us takes a turn reading a column. Then people go to bed.
Or more accurately, I go to bed. I get up in the wee hours of the morning to exercise before heading to my job, arriving at work before most people's alarms have gone off. Consequently I turn into a pumpkin pretty early in the evening.
I'm sure this makes it appear that our family is very spiritual. And on occasion we are. But more often our preparations for our evening devotional as well as the devotional itself are peppered with a great deal of irreverence, sniping, and decidedly un-Christ-like activities.
Half of the time the song picker takes longer to select a song than it takes to sing it. Or a song is picked that not everyone knows well enough to sing from memory. Or a song is selected that people are tired of singing. I mean, how often can you sing the Wise Man and the Foolish Man before you tire of it?
Despite my wish that everyone stay put during devotionals, family members continually develop excuses for wandering in and out of the family room during the event. People talk over each other or have private conversations during scripture reading. People (especially the youngest two) stare daggers at each other and make unkind remarks under their breath. Parents are sometimes overly critical of children that may be tired and cross. The list goes on.
I am relieved that even apostles have had similar challenges in their families. See Elder David A. Bednar's October 2009 general conference talk where he quotes his sons saying things like “He’s touching me!” “Make him stop looking at me!” “Mom, he’s breathing my air!” during family devotionals.
Quite frankly, sometimes I'm part of the problem. That was the case last night; although, this time my contribution was unwitting.
After finally getting everyone into the circle, one child brazenly broke wind. This resulted in gales of laughter from some family members and dramatic whole body recoils of disgust from others. As the cacophony died down, a second child boisterously contributed another dose of flatulence, eliciting laughter as well as drama worthy of a Shakespearean death scene.
As all of the hilarity and theatrics died down, I dispensed with my repeated calls for reverence and went to more direct instruction. "Close your eyes, close your mouths," and then referencing the recent gaseous outbursts I added, "close your butts."
I intended my admonition to be forthright with a slightly stern edge. However, it had the opposite effect. All of the other family members broke out in peals of laughter, as if I had said the funniest words ever spoken. I expressed my confusion as family members dabbed laughter tears from the corners of their eyes.
We eventually did get around to having family prayer and scripture study. Despite some irreverence during scripture reading, we actually had some decent discussion.
But, yeah, that's what family prayer is like at our house. Reverence is more like a journey than a destination—a journey whose end seems perpetually beyond the horizon.
Still, I hope that a lifetime of family prayer and scripture study will eventually, as Elder Bednar suggests, paint a good and worthy picture in the heart of each family member. With God as the master painter, how can it not?