Don’t feel guilty or less Catholic if a full family rosary hasn’t worked. The full devotion isn’t required for family prayer time, especially when you’re managing anxiety and OCD. (Thanks to Emily at Tejana Gringa for sharing her story)
We recently decided to take a step “backward” and stop saying the entire Rosary as a family.
My husband, often being the wiser between the two of us, had been suggesting this for a while. But I stubbornly held on to the idea that we had to keep doing the entire rosary.
When the sexual abuse cases in the church came to light in the summer of 2018, they were coupled with the revelation of a previously unrealized instance of abuse in my own past.
It scared me.
I felt we needed to pray a formal prayer of protection for our family in what seemed like a sort of spiritual nuclear fallout. The Rosary appeared a likely umbrella, even if praying it often took the character of a hostage negotiation held with the inmates of an insane asylum.
It was pure suffering for all involved, but suffering leads to salvation, right?
It does, as long as it’s the right kind.
Prayer, Anxiety, and the Truth About OCD
My relationship with prayer as a child was rocky.
At the recommendation of my mom, I would pray the rosary at night to help me try and fall asleep. Instead of relaxing, I’d be so anxious about saying it right that it would keep me awake until I finished.
This preoccupation with saying the rosary “correctly” followed me through high school and college. Praying it on my own would often take hours, as I would ‘re-do’ the prayers when I felt I had been distracted or hadn’t said them with enough devotion. I rarely ever said the rosary because it took so long, and that became a significant source of guilt.
I still can’t really meditate when I say it, even as an adult.
Sadly, this approach to prayer cropped up in other devotions as well. Attending Mass was extremely difficult for me for similar reasons. But while I could still occasionally get some solace from attending Mass, the Rosary was almost always torturing. It wasn’t until I was out of college and married with a baby on the way that I was finally diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Many of my struggles and feelings of inadequacy in my faith had an underlying cause.
Therapy helped, but I don’t want my children to have the same dysfunctional relationship with prayer that I had as a child and young adult. Though he’s only three years old, my oldest son is already showing some signs of anxiety, resistance to change, and an inability to moderate his emotions. He seems to have a temperament very similar to mine at that age, and I want to help him avoid the struggles that I went through.
I want him to see God as a source of comfort and someone who loves him, rather than someone with whom they have to check all the boxes so they can avoid “causing sorrow to Our Lord.” While that last bit is a common way of explaining sin to children, it’s a really bad way of explaining sin to someone struggling with OCD or scrupulosity.
It makes God seem like a passive-aggressive grandfather who sits around waiting for you to mess up:
“I died for you, you know. And this is how you repay me?!”
That’s basically how I saw God for years.
Rosary Not Required – Family Prayer that Works
I know now that isn’t the relationship that God wants to have with His children, or even really how He sees sin, but I still fall into approaching things that way from time to time. And as a mother in the middle of a spiritual crisis I felt strongly that saying the Rosary as a family would protect us.
I liked being able to say that we were doing the rosary as a family and the impressed reactions that we got.
What finally broke through to me was reading a book by Dr. Gregory Popcak about fostering a healthy spiritual life in one’s family and with one’s children, and what type of prayer is appropriate for certain age groups.
For preschool-aged children, the age that my children are now, Popcak talked about focusing on fostering relationship with God.
Prayer is supposed to be teaching our children to turn to God and feel loved and safe with Him rather than focusing on the form of the prayers. Popcak suggested singing praise and worship songs or hymns together as a family or focusing on a single decade of the rosary together, rather than trying to cram in the entire thing.
This approach would have helped me immensely as a child.
One Decade at a Time
Through it all, I think that perhaps God is calling me to redefine my own relationship with Him by fostering a healthy, loving one between Him and my children… and the fact that my pride is taking a bit of a beating in the process seems to confirm that suspicion. Letting go of that so that my family can actually form a relationship with God that’s right for our family, rather than looking like we already have one, is actually pretty humbling. And it’s calling me to let go of my own anxious efforts to protect my family through saying the right thing at the right frequency, and to depend more on God’s love for our family and what He wants from and for us.
Right now, we’re choosing to substitute doing the entire rosary with meditating on a single mystery and doing a single decade per night, completing an entire rosary over the course of the week. This gives us an opportunity to focus on a single mystery, and for our young children to have a fairer chance at being able to behave for the (much shorter) duration. We also have a time where we all share what we’d like to pray for, which helps bring us closer as a family as well as closer to God.
We’re still very much discerning what our family prayer time should look like. We might keep the current format, or we might change it again. There are things that I think would be helpful for our family and fostering relationship, like singing a hymn together, that I struggle to figure out how to actually implement just because they seem so foreign to the way my husband and I currently pray and how we were raised. But we’re trying our best to be open and to grow, which seems to be the point of this whole prayer thing anyway. It’s a vulnerable thing for me to really look at our needs as a family and let go of the standard of what I “ought” to be making my children do, and instead, listen to them and discern what best fits us as a family.
But I believe it is what God is calling us to do for our children’s salvation as well as our own.
Emily Hess is a twenty-something wife and mother who’s still getting the hang of this. She has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, a bunch of chickens, two kids, a bearded husband, and an unusual amount of mud tracked in her living room. She lives in South Texas where the sun is relentless and the tacos abundant. Connect with Emily on her blog, TejanaGringa.blogspot.com, and her Facebook page.
Oh friend, I’m with you in trying to do family prayer time. My friend prays a full rosary 4x per week with his kids 5-11, sings worship songs twice, and prays a Mercy Chaplet once. I love the idea of a predictable schedule but not the same thing every day. It means a lot to me that everyone wonders if they’re doing the best the can by their kids, and adjusts as needed.
Ginny Kochis says
I think we all just have to do what works for where we are. We are all called to holiness in our own way.
We have struggled with family rosary our entire family life. We still struggle. I hear that you need to make the prayer more meaningful, but I would encourage you to keep aiming for a full Rosary, eventually. Maybe make it a big kids thing for more than one or two decades, and the littlies go to bed. Babies are babies, even if they can lisp some Hail Mary’s. Saying one decade and meditating on it is a great idea!…to begin with.
I would urge you not to leave it there. I would urge the parents to at least finish the Rosary together later that day, so a full Rosary is done. “Pray the Rosary everyday ” is what Our Lady of Fatima said, and she said it to a 6 year old too! Maybe you could spread it over the day, maybe you could say it with a dvd (we have a Latin one that really captures MY attention and I’m an adult!) There are so many ways you could make it lovely, but the truth be known sometimes I’m just too darned tired, fighting the good fight each day (hence the dvd to visually inspire my worn brain and heart). Sometimes I’m just lazy too (you can be lazy with 7 kids, I’m an expert at it).
But don’t feel guilty if you don’t get it done. Just keep on. Try again the next day! It’s the effort that Our Lady will never let go unrewarded. There are days when we have no effort left to give. Leave them with a clear conscience to God, and try the next day. God blesses your loaves and fishes, and if a decade is all you can manage then that’s worth more than gold. But please don’t just say “we can only ever pray one decade”.
Find a way that won’t kill you. Play it in the car on a journey, play it for the kids as they go to sleep on cd or mp3 etc., you pray it and they look at the right picture of the mystery. Get the kids to lead the mystery and give a small meditation (it must be small or it could go on all night!) God’s grace will help you – the Rosary is not a burden but a blessing, just like Holy Mass. We don’t always feel its affect, but we know it has an eternal effect. God’s best blessings on you all and your precious ones 🙂
Ginny Kochis says
Thank you for your comment, Bernie. I’ll definitely pass it on to the author of this particular post, Emily.
I think the main point of her post is that Our Lord and Our Lady would never want us to fear or loathe prayer. Anxiety and OCD are terrible crosses, and they can cast a pall over even the most beautiful gifts. Becoming so fixated with the correct form of the prayers and the number of prayers in a decade – to the point where you fear for your salvation should you say or do it wrong – is not a viable way to grow closer to the Lord. While mental illness is in no way the devil’s responsibility, he can and will capitalize on its effects to draw us further from God. In this case, a preoccupation with the form of the rosary over the content and its graces leads to a crushing form of scrupulosity. For some, it becomes a devotion they cannot fully or even partially participate in until they have received the proper treatment and/or medication from a medical professional.
Truthfully, it’s a conundrum that’s hard for me to understand as well. Because while I have struggled in the past with OCD and anxiety, the rosary has always brought me peace. That is not the case for everyone, though, as evidenced through Emily, her son, and, to some extent, my own daughter. Please pray for them, and thank you for your encouragement to keep trying.
Emily Hess says
What Ginny said.
I hope to be at a place where we can pray the whole Rosary as a family someday, but we’re just not there yet. I’m not saying we’ll never go beyond doing a single decade at a time, but right now I feel like it’s what God is asking of us. It was actually a pretty significant sacrifice of humility to admit that was what we needed to do.
Ginny Kochis says
Much love to you, Emily. Thank you for sharing your heart.
As a homeschool mom who struggles with borderline line OCD. This article’s is just what I needed. Thank you