The Word Among Us

September 2020 Issue

Discovering the Grace of “Prayer Pauses”

My Newfound Antidote to Chaotic Family Life

By: Ruth O'Neil

Discovering the Grace of “Prayer Pauses”: My Newfound Antidote to Chaotic Family Life by Ruth O'Neil

I’d had it. My husband and I were having issues with a relative who was locked up in prison. We were supporting my ailing father-in-law, homeschooling three kids, keeping up with church activities, working our respective jobs, and trying to maintain everyday family life. I was overwhelmed.

Tempted to Escape. I began to deal with it all by reacting emotionally. My stress led to anger, which put everybody else in our home on edge too. One afternoon when I was feeling especially prickly, I noticed one of my children, who should have been doing his schoolwork, dawdling. I began shouting at him. Well, maybe I screamed. “What do you think you’re doing?”

My voice even scared the dog, who ran and hid under the couch.

It wasn’t pretty.

I couldn’t wait to leave for work that evening. I worked outside of our home at a call center for three-and-a-half hours each night. It was a blessing, both for the extra income and for the respite from my husband and kids. It didn’t matter that they weren’t the cause of my stress. They were just available, so it was easy to take out my frustrations on them. When I arrived home from work that night, however, everyone was in bed. I was alone with my thoughts and emotions.

Looking at King David. In the quiet of the night, I decided to get out my Bible. I hoped to read something that would still my anxious and pounding heart. I opened to 1 Chronicles 16, which describes the exuberant celebration that took place when King David brought the ark of the covenant to its rightful place of honor in Jerusalem.

It was a day of consecration and joyful fellowship with God and one another. David made sure that all of the people participated in the holy occasion by handing out portions of meat, which was a rare treat on such a large scale. It was as if the Israelites were guests at God’s feast. Yet what fascinated me most was a small sentence tucked away at the end. It concluded like this: “Then all the people departed, each to their own homes, and David returned to bless his household” (1 Chronicles 16:43).

That phrase “returned to bless his household” caught my attention. I marveled at how a man like David could fulfill his kingly duties, lead the Israelites to praise God, and still go home at the end of the day to “bless” his own family.

As the Holy Spirit brought this short verse to life for me, my thoughts returned swiftly to my own mess of an evening. Unlike David, I had not been putting God at the center of my work life, home life, and responsibilities. No, I had been getting into the habit of returning home to gripe about my day and all that had gone wrong. I knew in my heart I needed to make changes if I wanted to bless my household as David had blessed his.

Easier Said Than Done. The next morning, I got up early and cooked breakfast for my family. We ate together and even prayed a bit together before going our separate ways. I had to get up earlier than normal, but it seemed like a small, meaningful step toward blessing my family. It helped to some extent, but unfortunately it wasn’t a cure-all.

After a few weeks, new pressures arose, and I was right back to feeling irritable and short-tempered. The incarcerated family member finished serving his time and returned to our area with many needs. One of our teenagers was acting out at home. Everything became an argument, and it seemed that I could do nothing right in this child’s eyes. By the time my husband came home from work, I was ready to lash out again. Once more, I found myself struggling to be a blessing to my family.

After a couple of tense arguments with my husband, we decided to sit down and talk instead. We both felt that the devil was trying to tear us apart as a couple and as a family. Neither of us wanted that to happen, and we knew that we needed God’s help. It was not something that I could do alone.

Moment by Moment, with God. So I began something new. I would take a “time out” when a chaotic situation threatened to send me off balance. I would go off to my room, alone, and pray for a few moments, right in the midst of the problem. Taking a step back would often help me to calm down, seek God’s help, and see things from God’s perspective—or at least something closer to his perspective.

I found these moments refreshing and cleansing. God would speak to my heart and help me find new ways to speak to and relate with my family, especially in tense situations. And there were a lot of situations! But I learned a few things as I went along.

I learned that I like to fix things, but I can’t fix everything. Instead of worrying and trying to control our relative who is out of prison, I need to pray for him. Instead of doing everything in my power to keep my father-in-law healthy, I need to accept his physical weaknesses. Instead of just tackling my teenager’s behavior head-on, I can try to help her mature in her relationship with Christ.

As I have turned to the Lord more and more, I still see that I don’t have what it takes to be a patient mom and loving wife on my own. But with God’s help, I can think differently and ultimately treat people differently. I can invite him to guide my every feeling and reaction.

Ruth O’Neil lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, with her husband and three children.