What I Pray for My Children
You have everything it takes to have a wonderful life.
I recently helped my friend bury her 11-month-old son. Just weeks shy of his first birthday, the family had planned a trip to Disneyland in celebration. Instead, the snacks for the road trip were spread over the kitchen counter to be eaten by friends and family as they passed through the house. My friend, who holds her faith dear, told her church at the memorial service that she used to pray that her children would have a long and happy life. But recently she had begun to pray, instead, that they would live full, rich lives. Looking at the pictures of her smiling, sweet little boy, so loved by his two older sisters, my friend said: “I got everything I prayed for and nothing I wanted.”
I think about what I pray for my children. The deep and fervent hopes I send to heaven on their behalf. I want them to be happy. I want them to be loved. I want them to live life the way they want to. I want them to be safe and protected. But too much of what I want for my children is beyond my control. I can’t control their profession. I cannot tell them whom to marry, when to laugh or how to cry. I can teach them through example, of course. But at some point they must find their own way. I can pray earnestly for love, life, and longevity. But watching my friend grieve, and grieving with her, all of those prayers seem fruitless somehow—like tossing paper in the wind. I want a prayer that works. That doesn’t imprint on them my own flawed conception of a successful life, but gives them the freedom to be who they want to be.
I sometimes volunteer at a local women’s shelter. There, I help lead a class that seeks to uncover the harmful things women believe about themselves and replace them with true things—beautiful things. It sounds weird, but it works. I’m back to helping with the class again after a three year break. And it’s so hard to see these women struggling to parse out the voices in their heads. It’s harder now that I am a parent. I sometimes hear in these women echos of things I have said to my daughter before—Don’t cry. Suck it up. Be quiet. Enough. And I realized that more than having hopes and dreams for my children (shouldn’t they be allowed to have those on their own?) I want to be the voice in their head that they hear saying true and beautiful things.
So, I’ve started every night, telling my children a modified version of what we teach the women at the shelter to say: We are your family. We are going to be here for you no matter what. We are going to prepare you for life. We’ll see that you are well taught and that you receive the right example. You are such a wonderful person. You have everything it takes to have a wonderful life.
It’s not a prayer. It is an affirmation. It’s positive words that I hope they eventually start to hear in their heads. I’m sure I will modify the words over the years. What they need to hear now is not what they will need to hear as teens. But I hope the words, simple, though they may be, will give them something. So, one day, when the worst comes and they think they have nothing, they’ll will have this, true words, kind words, reminding them always of how much they are loved and wanted and cherished.
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