The Prayer Ping: How Technology Changes Our Conversations With God

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Yesterday, my adult daughter, Martha, texted me to ask for prayers for a co-worker who had just died of cancer. The words in the gray dialogue box landed with a soft “ping” as I was eating breakfast. I had been praying for her friend, but the end of a young life is always a shock. I quickly texted back that I would pray that very minute for the young woman and her children.

This is an example of modern family prayer.

I didn’t learn how to pray with the help of technology while I was growing up, and, as far as I know, there aren’t any chapters in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that teach us about praying with your phone.

What I discovered while interviewing families for my new book, “The Prayer List … and Other True Stories of How Families Pray,” is that families pray in an astonishing variety of ways such as saying grace at mealtimes, reciting bedtime prayers, or uttering prayers in their cars, in hospital rooms, or at gravestones.

My friend, Colleen, has a unique way of praying with her family with the help of her phone’s alarm.

RELATED: Does God Hear Prayers in My Car?

Saying highway prayers

Colleen has four kids and they each have busy schedules, so she sets an alarm on her phone to go off three times each day: 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. This practice helps her remember that, no matter how wound up the day gets, there is always time to pray.

Often, Colleen is in the car with her kids when the little chime goes off, and she interrupts the conversation to say, “Okay, time to pray.” Because they’re driving, they often invoke the prayers of St. Christopher; the patron saint of travelers. Colleen’s family talks to St. Christopher so frequently that, when her son Brendan chose a Confirmation name, he picked the patron he knew the best—Christopher.

Stumbling upon ‘perfect moment’ prayers

Once, she and her daughter, Julia, were together when it was time to pray, so Colleen turned to her and asked who they should pray for. “Mom,” Julia said, “Can we pray for my friend?” It was a moment of closeness that they might not have experienced without the prayer alarm. Sometimes a simple question can open up a meaningful conversation. I felt this closeness when Martha interrupted my breakfast with her sad news. I was able to be there for her and support her in her grief.

Praying in moments of togetherness and separation

Colleen says that often her phone alarm goes off when she is with her husband Dave, so that’s a great time for them to pray together. Not long ago, the family was all together except for one daughter, Lauren, who was flying to Germany. When Colleen heard the phone alarm, she looked at the time and knew Lauren was in the air, so they all stopped and prayed.

RELATED: How to Start a Prayer Journal

Using a prayer alarm

Colleen’s prayer alarm conjures up images of waking up, jumping out of bed into the day, or tapping the snooze function for five more minutes of rest. Each of those actions define prayer for me:

Waking up (even when we aren’t sleeping) — Prayer is a moment to open our eyes, look up from all the busyness, and notice God’s presence in what’s happening all around us.

Jumping out of bed — Prayer is energy for the day. It gives me courage, spunk, and realism about my limitations. I can jump into the day, but I can’t jump over people. Tomorrow, I have an interview at 7:30 a.m. When my day starts so early, breakfast is important, but so is my morning prayer. I will be setting my alarm earlier than usual!

Rest —  Prayer is rest. Taking time to pray gives me a chance to breathe. Prayer gives me permission to love the good in the present moment, and leave the perfect for some other time. At the end of a long day, it’s not unusual for me to pray lying flat on the floor in a restful position.

Texting prayers with my grown daughter and Colleen’s prayer alarm are only two paths for family prayer. The alerts and alarms on our phones pull us together early in the day, in the middle of the highway, in our celebrations, and in our stress, just like the old church tower bells of long ago used to remind people to stop and talk to God. Maybe modern family prayer isn’t that different after all.