A couple of evenings each week, my mother would goad my father into leading our family through a scripted devotional booklet provided by the church. A devotion service at home consisted of four parts: a bible verse reading, a message that interpreted the bible verse, a family prayer in which we were all asked to participate and my father’s long-winded pontification to close the service.
The reason I probably disliked—no, hated—devotions was that it didn’t matter what else you might be doing at the time, you had to drop everything for devotions. You say your favorite television show is almost over with? Didn’t matter. Turn it off. Television was a form of idolatry. What if I had an algebra test the next day and I was studying? Again, it didn’t matter. In fact, I was told I could pray for my test. The best course of action was to sit down as quickly as possible and get the damn thing over with.
When I said we were asked to participate in the family prayer, that’s usually as far as it went.
My father would ask, “Eugene, would you like to say a prayer?”
“No,” I would reply.
My brother, Kenny, always took my lead and refused to pray as well. (Good brother. No sense in dragging this out any longer than it has too.) My little sister, Shawna, usually refused to pray as well, but one time I remember her prayer quite clearly.
My father asked, “Shawna, would you like to say a prayer?”
“Yes,” she replied.
I looked up, so did Kenny. (Make it short you little traitor.) Shawna folded her hands, closed her eyes.
“Dear Lord, please make Kenny a better boy,” she said.
Kenny jumped up to defend his honor and placed his fist in her face.
“YOU PRAY FOR YOURSELF!” he screamed.
My father broke up the fight before it turned ugly and took my brother to his room. Devotions ended early that night. (Alright, Kenny.)
The only other bright spot that I can remember about devotions was a contest that my brother and I devised. Not sure how it started; doesn’t matter. Once the family-participation prayer was over with, my father would start his prayer. The moment he said, “Dear Lord…” Kenny and I would each take a deep breath and see if we could hold our breath until my father’s prayer ended. Usually he won, but every now and then, we made it.
There was a cadence and repetition to his prayers. Once he said the catch phrase, “We give you the honor and the glory,” you could safely assume you were in the last 30 seconds of his prayer. And so it was said, “We give you the honor and the glory…” so Kenny and I held out. Any other night, we would have given up because our bodies were already demanding fresh air, but this night we really thought we were going to make it.
We refused to quit. We were going to win. The end was within our grasp. The tell-tale clues that said he was nearly finished with his prayer were all there. Wrap it up. Wrap it up, I thought.
And then my father remembered he had forgotten to pray for the president and congress. My brother and I realized the game was over at the same time. We both exhaled forcefully and gasped for much-needed oxygen as if we had just run a marathon. In a sense, we had. Our parents looked up, like deer in headlights, as both of us panted to maintain consciousness.
That is probably the closest I have ever come to passing out.