When Harvey and Zion were younger I used to read to them from the bible every day. We'd sit on the couch and read a prayer, then a story from each of their kids bibles, then the illustrated Nicene creed. Then if we were on a roll we'd read about a saint. It worked well for about a year, and then it didn't work at all.
It stopped working when they started annoying me on purpose, hitting the book or poking each other or repeating the same words over and over again when they knew it irritated me. Suddenly I was doing this thing that felt only important to ME. They knew that it was important to me, and that made them uncomfortable. Well, that's the most charitable explanation. Could be it made them feel like they had the power to mess with me. Suddenly reading the bible was the beginning of a disciplinary fight. So I stopped the practice altogether. I didn't want them to see the bible primarily as something that made Mama angry.
I also stopped praying with Harvey at bedtime, for other reasons. First he asked me to pray for him multiple times each night, and I thought either it was a stalling technique for not going to bed or it was becoming an anxious compulsion. So sometimes I said no after the first time, and sometimes I prayed multiple times with both eyes closed, "Please God no nightmares, blah blah blah, no bad dreams, I'm falling asleep zzzzzzz." Then Harvey started asking me to NOT pray for him because it GAVE him nightmares. The psychological explanation for this is simple: he was asking me to pray for him NOT to have nightmares, so as soon as I started praying he started thinking obsessively about nightmares. Or you could go for a spiritual explanation, spiritual warfare and all, which may be true but it's not a helpful way to frame the topic for a 4-year-old.
So no bible and no bedtime prayer. For half a year that felt authentic to me, and I figured life was long and grace sufficient.
Then Harvey started asking me to pray for him recently, again about the nightmares, and I did something different. I ACTUALLY prayed for him. No more praying as emotional palliative care, or praying as a model of how I thought Harvey should learn how to pray. Instead, I prayed for him like I would pray for an adult at church. I listened to God and praying what I thought felt right. I said things in the normal non-kid language I use. Like, "Thank you that Harvey is covered in your blood, Lord Jesus, as a protection against all evil." You know, shit that SHOULD give kids nightmares.
But you know what? Harvey started to say things he didn't say before. He let out a sight and said, "I feel better." He rolled over and said, "Thanks. That worked."
You know, as if this prayer stuff was real or whatever.
You know, I do believe God is real. But sometimes in parenting I forget.
Sometimes I think that I am God. That I control the universe of our home right down to my children's beliefs. (It isn't true.) Or I believe it's my job is to serve up a safe, cuddly, moderated God for my children. A sanitized God of the fuzzy bible. Yes that is a rea thing. We actually own a bible covered in fur.
This is the God that bores them. They start poking each other. It becomes the Catechism of Mom is Testy.
And yet there is the other God. Let's call him Jesus. He's a real person with a real relationship to Harvey. He's awesome and compelling and brave. He rides through Harvey's dreams on a white horse chasing away the nightmares.
Jesus is God who comes alive when I step to the side and let Harvey experience him for real.
Tonight after I prayed for Harvey and he said he felt better, he said, "You know, I never pray for you Mama. You should ask me to pray for you sometimes."
In normal parenting this is not the sort of thing that happens. When I'm mad I don't immediately turn to my child and ask him to pray for me. But I think I should start. With God anything is possible.