Guest Post: Break Tradition in Family Prayer

doorBy Dani Addante

Dani has a B.A. in Creative Writing and loves to write young adult fantasy novels. She loves riding her bike, spending time with furry animals, and eating chocolate-chip cookies.

I was at my parents’ house for dinner a few months ago. Dad wasn’t feeling well, so he was resting upstairs. My brother, sister-in-law, and her parents were sitting around the table just before dinner. Then my mom looked around and said, “A patriarch should choose who says the prayer.” She looked at my brother and then at his father-in-law. “I can say the prayer,” I offered, feeling awkward. My mom then asked my brother to choose (who by the way is younger than me). Then, my grandma chose my brother to pray, and so he did. My grandma is Catholic, by the way.

In the past, I was confused about this issue. Was it doctrine that the husband always chose who prayed? I had taken an Eternal Marriage class at BYU-Idaho, and the professor had declared, “The husband should always lead in family prayers, FHE, and scripture study.” His tone implied that nobody should question this declaration.

Having the husband or father decide who prays is a tradition that has been passed down for many generations. Some people believe it to be doctrine because the Family Proclamation says that the man “presides.” But in reality, husbands and wives should be equal partners, so it makes sense that they should take turns in deciding who prays. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that the man should always decide who prays.

It’s time to break tradition.

I got married about three years ago, and my husband and I have always taken turns deciding who prays. Actually, since it’s just the two of us, we take turns saying the prayer. In the future, when we have kids, then we will take turns deciding who prays. If the home teachers come over, my husband and I still take turns choosing who prays.

The first time the home teachers had come over (since I’d been married) was kind of awkward. At the end of the visit, one of the home teachers asked my husband whom he wanted to say the prayer. I had been unprepared for this so I didn’t say anything, but the next time they came, I was ready. I had decided ahead of time that I was going to say the prayer. So the next time they asked, I told them I was going to pray. I said the prayer and felt really good that I had broken tradition.

It’s easy to take turns with your family in deciding who prays. But when you’re around other church members it can be kind of awkward. One thing that can help is to talk to your spouse before other members come to your house for dinner and decide which of you is going to decide who prays. This can relieve a lot of stress. Also, be bold. Don’t be afraid to decide who says the prayer. It’s your turn, after all.

Once, before going on a long trip, my sister-in-law suggested we pray before we drove off. “Who wants to say it?” I asked. Both my friend and sister-in-law turned to my husband and said. “You choose. You’re the man.”

You can imagine how awkward I felt.

I’m sure there are others out there who have had awkward moments like this. Have you found any successful ways to deal with this issue? Please comment and share your experiences and any insights you have.

It’s very unfair that a man, by default, always chooses who prays.

I hope for the day when it will become natural in the church for husbands and wives to take turns choosing who prays during family prayers. Meanwhile, I will keep living the doctrine of gender equality, and I hope my example will be noticed by the people around me.

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22 Responses

  1. Patty says:

    Sad moment, when my stepmom wanted to say the blessing on her 80th birthday. My dad just assumed he was doing it and hadn’t heard her request. She was, as always, gracious about it. He never knew. We always take turns. My hubby is long-winded, so sometimes I volunteer. If there are adult children there, we include them in the rotation. Home teachers? Meh. Whoever.

  2. Caroline says:

    Luckily, my husband and I agree that this idea that the man picks who says prayers is simply a cultural norm (and a dumb one at that). So when home teachers have come over in the past, I’ve often preempted things by asking one of the home teachers to say the closing prayer. It’s time for people to get used to women taking the lead on this too. Thanks for the post, Dani!

  3. spunky says:

    Yes! This is such a silly habit! We’ve not had missionaries for a while, but when we did, they knew to follow our prayer chart. We have a prayer chart, not unlike a FHE roster where each family member has a turn blessing the food, doing family prayer, etc.

    Your post is a great reminder as to why we opted for the prayer chart in the first place. Thank you!

  4. Dani Addante says:

    Yes, I find it hard to believe that people still aren’t used to this. It has always seemed normal to me that husbands and wives should be taking turns choosing who says the prayers.

    Once, someone said to a husband, “It’s your house, who would you like to say the prayer?” It’s ridiculous that they assumed he should choose, just because it’s his house. I guess they forgot that it’s the wife’s house too!

  5. Jeff K. says:

    In our family we roll a die to decide who prays. Visitors sometimes raise an eyebrow but we figure if casting lots was good enough for Lehi’s sons then it’s good enough for us too.

    When my wife isn’t home, we sometimes follow a tradition from my mission and use rock/paper/scissors with the winner praying. For some reason she thinks rock/paper/scissors not as dignified as rolling dice.

  6. Danna says:

    While we share responsibility I am the one here 80% of the time since my husband travels a lot. So it is just natural for me to continue to lead in these ways. Thankfully we work together well and are considerate of eachother’s thoughts and feelings. But how weird would it be if when he did come I stepped back into a dark hole? Very weird in my opinion. This is something that needs to be swept out with many other leftovers from 50’s era gender roles.

  7. Violadiva says:

    It’s such a funny tradition, and so many feel duty bound to follow it!
    My husband and I have joked about it: I’ll say, “honey, will you please call on someone to say the prayer?” And we laugh and call it pre-presiding.
    We usually take turns gathering up the children for the prayers and inviting someone to say the prayer. But when church friends come over to visit, I make it a point to have them see me take charge.

  8. Jsf says:

    Nice post. When first married we were following the tradition and not even thinking about it. A few year s back now we decided that it was silly for my husband to be the one to always choose. Do we switched to do a even/odd day split so that it’s not a matter of remembering who did it last. It’s worked so well for us and for my kids it’s normal now so they don’t bat an eye. One will just say, “Mom, it’s an odd day so it’s your turn to pick.” Even in front of company.

  9. Andrew R. says:

    I think that the idea that the Father choosing is simply a tradition is not quite right. Whilst I am personally ambivalent as to who asks someone to pray I do believe that it is still in our teachings as a church that the father does, as the presiding officer.

    In the Manual Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood – basic manual for priesthood holders part b (still in print and still on the LDS.org website, and used in Basic Unit teaching) Lesson 11 it lists how fathers can lead and bless their family members.

    7. Call on family members to pray and bless the food.

    This is quite specific that it is a Father’s duty to be the one to call on family members to pray in family prayer and bless the food at meal times.

    So don’t be too quick to sweep away a tradition. That, of course, doesn’t mean that you can’t seek further clarification from Church leaders. And, as in other things, seek for wording to be changed. But this does appear to be a teaching, and not simply a tradition.

    • I agree. Male church leaders have written this tradition into policy. And it is a bad policy that demeans women.

      • Anon says:

        You say policy, I say duty (which I think is different), but it is besides the point what we call it really.

        Let me please preface what I am about to write. I know I am a man, I know this means that I can not know what it feels like to be a woman.

        I grew up in a home where my Dad always assigned the family prayers and blessing on the food, except when he was not there, then it was (quite obviously) my mother’s duty. In my wife’s home the same practice also happened. In our home, together, we do this too. At no time has my wife sought to choose. She doesn’t much like doing it when, from another room, I ask her to get someone to bless the food. So for me this is a non-issue because my wife does not feel demeaned (though I do understand that some here may believe that just because she doesn’t feel it doesn’t mean she isn’t being).

        To put this in the presiding context. A Bishop always presides (unless a higher authority is present). He does not, however, assign all the prayers. So, a husband can easily say to his wife, “this week, you assign all the prayers”. This does not mean she is presiding, it means she is conducting. For this reason I see this as a silly notion. Thought I do understand that the thrust is to allow the children to see their Dad presiding, using his priesthood, etc.

        What I do not understand is why it is demeaning to women? And I really want to understand.

        Yes, in the original post above, the Mum was wrong. She was, in the absence of her husband, the presiding officer. Not her Son, or Father-in-Law. That was demeaning, but the Mum did it, and probably due to incorrect teaching. Even if the prophet had been at the table she would have presided in her home.

      • Violadiva says:

        How is this demeaning to women?

        So, a husband can easily say to his wife, “this week, you assign all the prayers”.

        This makes it sound like the wife, similar to a child, is just another person to be directed, one who will obey the man of the house if he gives her an assignment.

        I prefer to think of myself as a co-presider, or “equal partner” in the house. Anything my husband can do under the auspices of “presider,” I may also do, and I don’t need his permission or direction to do so. We have an agreement that this is how our marriage works, in spite of strange church traditions or customs to do otherwise. My husband does not preside over me; the two of us together preside over our children. I would consider it demeaning to women to be presided over by a husband.
        Our marriage agreement for division of labor (including calling on someone to say the prayer) is: Whoever notices it needs to be done, does it. From dishes, to bill paying, to dirty diapers, to prayer calling. It’s a straight up rotation.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Just to be clear – that was me above. I did not intend it to be Anon.

      • Marcus says:

        The words “policy” or “duty” are both too strong to describe what is actually being taught in this chapter. Andrew, you are over interpreting when you single out the father as THE ONE to call on family members for prayers. By using the word “can,” the manual indicates capability but not exclusivity.

  10. Dani Addante says:

    Andrew, if your wife doesn’t want to choose who says the prayer, then that’s okay. But there are many other women out there who do want to choose.

    Also, the father does not preside. In the Family Proclamation it says that the husband and wife are equal partners. If this is true, then the part about presiding has to be wrong. It goes against being equal partners. Having the man presiding demeans a woman because it treats her like a child instead of a decision-making adult.

    And, as Elder Oaks pointed out, women do have the priesthood. Also, it’s been said in general conference that men and women receive the same priesthood in the temple.

  11. Andrew R. says:

    “if your wife doesn’t want to choose who says the prayer, then that’s okay” really?

    What if I don’t want to choose either?

    You see, it is the presiding authority’s responsibility to to call together the family and ask someone to pray. So who should do it? Where does the buck stop?

    • spunky says:

      If no one wants to “call on” someone to pray, then I figure it’s okay to skip the prayer. I’m not kidding. That’s where the “buck” stops. The combined apathy against prayer then wins.

      • Andrew R. says:

        I think my point was more on the abdication of responsibility. At present my beliefs (which I accept differ from the majority here) see me as the presiding authority of my family.

        This does not mean that I make all the decisions, it does not mean that I am any more important than my wife, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I am more Spiritually aware or “better” than her. We are joint leaders of our family. We teach, we love, we lead together.

        For me however the actual responsibility, and the one who will be judged for it, it me.

        So deciding that I don’t want the responsibility, and that my wife can have it, is not possible. She can not more taking the presiding role than I can give it up.

        Even if I were to accept the idea of dual-presidency (which for me is anathema) we would both be equally liable for how we discharged our responsibilities. As such again, me saying you do it all, or her saying it, would be wrong.

        I like that it is my responsibility and that she is not under the obligation – she has enough to worry about.

        None of the above means I am not open to new revelation, but I do not expect it. But I do still want to understand the driving force behind the ideas and desires expressed here.

  12. Ziff says:

    I agree. A presider is needed, with whom the buck finally stops. If we’re deprived of a presider to have the final say on who is to pray, then nobody will pray. Chaos will ensue! God will be peeved at us all for not talking to her, and she’ll have to resort to using her all-seeing eyes to keep tabs on what we’re doing.

  13. Ziff says:

    And great post, Dani. Thanks for setting the example in setting aside this silly patriarchal notion.

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