Friday, September 28, 2012

Bedtime dragons

NOTE: I played hookie Thursday to spend the day with my daughter Michelle, who had a day off from work--and whose birthday is this weekend!

In her honor, today's blog is a re-do about her, (and edited version of) one of my old columns published years ago in Catholic Parent Magazine.

I glanced down the hallway, thankful to see that her light was still on. I told Michelle that she could read until I came in to say goodnight, but sometimes I take so long with the other kids that this self-contented youngest child ends up turning off the light and is sound asleep by the time I arrive.
“You ready for me?” I said walking in to her bedroom.
She nodded sleepy eyes that told me that my curly haired blond beauty had been napping with a book in her hand.
Sitting up in bed, she reached out both hands to mine and closed her eyes. “You start and I’ll finish,” she said, assuming our usual pattern for saying prayers.
But before I could utter one word, Michelle suddenly opened her eyes and looked at my face.
“Mama, why do we pray?” She paused to look at my surprised face. “I mean, if God knows our heart and God knows what we’re thinking, why do we tell Him things?”
I was so exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was to take time for a theological discussion. But I could tell Michelle had been thinking about this long enough that it was really bothering her. In the back of my mind I was telling myself that I will never understand why these questions always seem to come at bedtime.

Yet the part of bedtime that I have learned to treasure in spite of my state of personal exhaustion, is the intimate and quiet sharing that I am graced to enjoy with each individual child––perhaps for the first and only time that entire day. It is in those quiet moments of talking and praying together that I’ve often seen something that would only come out at night, like a nocturnal animal that I look forward to spotting in the forest of their soul.

From the time she was born, I have often said that God knew how much and what I could handle when He gave me Michelle. A naturally spiritual child, Michelle was born with a cheerful spirit and a contented temper. And she was also the easiest child to lay down at bedtime!  Even as a baby and toddler, I would say a prayer with her, lay her down and Michelle would magically go to sleep.
So when Michelle talks at bedtime, I try very hard to listen.  

“Well,” I took a deep breath, wondering how to address her question. “I look at praying as similar to the way that you and I function.”
I got her attention. “As your mom, I think I know what you like. Your favorite color. Your favorite song at night. I also know when you’ve had a hard day at school the moment I see your face. And by the way you walk into a room, I can even tell how tired you are. But it’s still important that you and I talk... and that you tell me how you feel and what you’re thinking.  It’s what people do when they love each other. And that’s what prayer is... it’s a time we share ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings, with God, who loves us more than anyone ever will. Prayer is not just talking. It’s about making time to be together, like you and I are doing right now.”
Michelle thought about it for a moment and decided this was enough. She closed her eyes once again and said, “Okay, Mama... go ahead.”
I don’t remember what I said, but after a while I squeezed Michelle’s hand, my signal that it was her turn to take over. Michelle continued our prayer with a litany of “thank you’s” and “please bless...” ending with words that she repeated every night: “Let all the bad people turn good. Let this family be safe. Let me have no bad dreams and no bad thoughts. Let me have a good night rest and a good day tomorrow.”
But that night she paused, eyes still closed, and finally concluded, “and God, thank you for wanting to listen to me.”