Toddler helped family find the joy in playing and praying - Catholic Courier
A child plays with toys.

(Photo by Ed Rivera)

Toddler helped family find the joy in playing and praying

Our younger son, Sean, was a very joyful baby. When Sean was a toddler, he really enjoyed playing a game called Hungry Hungry Hippos. He would find the game and say, “ hippo, hippo, please.” He was so cute that it was hard to say no to him, so we played it often.

One day, we called the boys to come to the table for lunch. Jordan came quickly, but Sean didn’t. We went to check on Sean and found him playing Hungry Hungry Hippos. My late husband, Ed said, “Sean, it’s time for lunch, please come to the table so we can pray and eat.” Sean kept playing and said, “When I play, I pray.” We were surprised but thought about it and brought all our lunches to where Sean was. We prayed, played and laughed with Sean while we ate. For Sean, playing was praying. Over the years, Sean instigated lots of play with his brother, friends and our family.

When the boys were teens, we were stuck in an airport for eight hours. Each of us had our carry-ons that were supposed to have a change of clothes, medicine, book and toothbrush. Sean had not packed any of those things. Instead, his backpack was full of board games and playing cards. We spent the eight hours laughing and having fun playing while the other people around us looked frustrated.

Sean taught us that we could be close to God and to each other not only through prayer but also by playing as a family.

Since Ed passed away, it’s been hard for me to play. Remembering Sean saying “When I play I pray” is helping me start playing again. The fun memories, prayer and playing are healing me.

Thanks, Sean, for teaching our family to play.


Leonor “Leo” and Ed Rivera were members of the local Worldwide Marriage Encounter community for 32 of their 34 years of marriage until Ed unexpectedly died of a genetic heart defect on Aug. 1, 2020.

The 2023 Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekends are Sept. 15-17 and Nov. 10-12. All weekends take place at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua.

To read more of Leo and Ed’s blogs, visit

Tags: Catholic Marriage
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