I’m not a saint or a literal interpreter of any sacred text. I don’t take the Bible literally. I’m happy to raise my kids in a church so I occasionally hear questions like “Was there really a flood that covered the earth” or “God just like…put a baby in someone’s belly?” or “This guy made the ocean spread apart? Like…Dumbledore?” I don’t respond with equal suspicion. Instead we discuss the story and I ask the kids what they think.
But we do pray. Because why not? It’s important to take a mindful moment to reflect on gratitude, show grace to our fellow humans, and manifest our profound needs. When we pray, we reflect on our day, our dreams, our future, our hopes. Expressing gratitude makes people happier. And I do believe there’s an energy that unites all human beings…and that’s interpreted as spirituality. So we pray.
We do the “Now I lay me down to sleep…” of my childhood, and then run through a litany of blessings upon individual people that my mom taught me. And that expands to “…and all of our uncles and aunties and cousins and friends and everyone in the world.”
And sometimes we devolve into blessing nonsense like “this butt cheek and that butt check and your nostrils and your nipples.”I think any higher power doesn’t mind giggling at prayer time.
Over the past four years, my kids would occasionally say “But not Donald Trump” to which I replied, “I think he needs blessings more than anyone. Bullies are always sad, lonely people. Especially when they’re mean, they need a blessing.” That usually didn’t sink in and the kids would respond, “Nope.” But it’ll sink in. Eventually.
Our prayers are mostly focused on blessing others. It’s a selfless moment of reflection. And then we get to the asking for stuff. In the way that self-help gurus, Oprah, The Secret, The Magic of Believing would all coach us, I think it’s good to ask for what you want in life. Put it out there in the ether. Manifest your desires. However, neither my kids or I pray for more toys or wealth or new cars.
Somewhere I once read the words of someone much smarter than I that there are only two things you can ask for from God/Gaia/Buddha/Allah/
I’ve taken that to heart for many years. There hasn’t been a single plane trip I’ve taken in 20 years that didn’t see me giving thanks for my blessings and asking for more strength and wisdom upon takeoff. Call me superstitious. Or label me a non-atheist in a foxhole. “God, thank you for all my blessings and please continue to bless me with strength and wisdom.” If I have the strength and wisdom to make good decisions, act honestly and bravely, know what’s good for me and what’s not, and stay true to myself, do no harm, love my fellow person, I can’t go wrong. Strength and wisdom. A simple ask and they cover all the bases.
A friend of mine is much more of a Biblical scholar than I and has kids in their twenties. He told me his wife and he have prayed with them twenty years and always asks “strength, wisdom, kindness and bravery.” I recently expanded our “ask” in prayers with my kids. Why not include kindness and bravery? I’d say they can be found in strength and wisdom. If you’re wise, you know it’s good to be kind, and if you’ve got strength of character, you’ll be brave in your life’s decisions. But for my kids, I think it’s a simple tweak for them to absorb that request for kindness and bravery, too. Let their minds ponder a few more words so prayers aren’t quite so abstract.
We’ve yet to explain why we pray or what we’re asking for. But we’ve prayed and sung a few songs at bedtime since they were sentient toddlers. And the ritual, the moment of reflection, the physical contact where we’re brushing their hair off their foreheads, hugging their shoulders and whispering at their bedsides…it makes for an important end to every single day.
Praying makes our lives richer. Reflecting on gratitude, showing grace to our fellow humans and manifesting our profound needs. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.