One of my earliest memories is snuggling with my mother while she prayed aloud and held me close. I can still feel the warmth of her hands on my back as she began, "Now I lay me down to sleep ? " I loved the intimacy of those moments so much that I continued the ritual through out my teenage years until I left for college.
Less pleasant are the memories of me lying in my own bed, struggling in the dark to find the words to connect with my Heavenly Father. I remember praying, "Dear God, I'm sorry I sinned so much today. Please help me never to sin again." This request always produced disappointment in me, for in the next moment some malicious or jealous thought had already entered my head.
Even as an adult, I've felt ineffective in my prayer life. I realize now that although I grew up in a praying, church-going family, our prayers were mostly memorized, "poem" prayers recited at mealtime and bedtime. I also realize that those times of prayer with my mother were about connecting with her and not true communication with God. For me the "canned prayers" lacked immediacy and often fell short of conveying the burdens on my heart and the struggles I was facing in daily life.
When my son was a baby, we prayed the familiar poem prayers together. Although the ritual was comforting and helpful to him in learning that all of God's children need to talk to him, I still yearned for a more heartfelt way to pray.
Several years and a second child later, I received the breakthrough. At a weekend retreat, a mother of teenagers shared what prayer had meant in her family's life. Her most meaningful experiences, she said, had come when she taught her children the "ACTS" of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanks giving and Supplication.1