Me and my kids been trying to say our prayers before bed each night. They’re already in good practice because their mom almost never forgets to tuck ’em in and say some nice words before sending them off to the restless twilight between resentment and resignation.
Their prayers usually follow a tried and true formula of: 1. giving thanks, 2. specific requests, 3. general cares and affections. The boys know the drill. “Thank you, Jesus, for all the great stuff we’ve got going on; please look after auntie so-&-so, make sure she gets better soon; and be good to all our friends and family, whom we love. Amen.”
It’s perfect. No need to elaborate beyond that. But still, I feel the urgency to also take responsibility for my children’s relationship to God, even if I don’t know if there is any such person or thing as “God.” I still believe that we should all be responsible for the choices and affiliations that we make. So that includes me, an agnostic that chooses to practice Christianity. And it also includes them, children that practice prayer.
So, the prayer I share with my sons is the same prayer I pray for myself every day:
God, make room for me in your world. Make me brave. Make me believe.
I think it’s brilliantly simple. But my kids think it needs some ‘plaining.
First question: “Believe in what?”
Answer: “Well, what do you think we need help believing in?”
Response: “Hmmm…. In God?”
Answer: “Yes, maybe, and also in ourselves and in goodness and good things.”
Second question: “What is God’s world?”
Answer: “What do you think?”
Response: “Everything? Even bad things?”
Answer: “Yes, everything is part of God’s world. Even bad things. Even monsters.”
Then, I ask them if they know what being brave is. And they say, of course. And I’m glad they understand what bravery is because that means that they know what it is to be scared.
I would, of course in my heart, prefer they never experience fear. That’s just a father’s impulse. But I know that if we don’t know fear, we don’t know the world. If we don’t know fear, we only know a small place: comfortable and static. With no reason to pray for God to make us brave.
But in the world of my prayer, the world I pray God makes room for me in, there are monsters lurking around each corner. My prayer is that we can be there with the monsters, because we belong with them. And we can be brave enough to face them, because they’re there to be faced. And we will keep believing that, no matter how dark and monster-filled our world becomes, we’ll know that there is goodness in it and in us too. Amen.