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My son turns three next week, and while there have been many milestones along the way, tonight he said his first prayer.
From in utero, I’ve been praying with him. At the dinner table, we say family prayers. But tonight was different.
We sat cross legged. I had my hand on his back and my other hand open, palm toward the heavens. It was too dark to see, but I imagine his sweet little face had closed eyes. His hands were still, however he decided to hold them.
He started, “Dear God,” and paused with a combination of hesitation and contemplation. “Dear God,” he continued, “Please help me not to sneeze.”
In my most complementary manner I offered some words: “Dear God, thank you for our health. Please keep us healthy.” He echoed and added, “Please keep Grandpa healthy. He is sick.”
He sweetly continued to thank God for the birthday presents he received earlier that day at our party with family. I guided him to include thanks for the love and generosity from those whom we love. He would pause and intermittently turn to me and say, “What else do I say?”
He was helming this bedtime prayer, not me.
So now, he’s asleep and I’m reflecting: What do I know now about prayer? Sometimes I feel it’s enough to pray earnestly with my own heartfelt words, and sometimes I feel I need some guidance:
Those children are like plants and this teaching and praying as rain which gives freshness and delicacy and as the zephyr of the love of God which revives. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Volume 3, p. 507.
So what else do I say? How do I say it? How do I give my son the freshness and delicacy prayer offers us? How do I guide this little soul?
To answer those questions, I turned to a few favorite insights from the Baha’i teachings on prayer.
Abdu’l-Baha prayed not folding his hands in the conventional manner, but holding them extended and slightly bent with concaved palms toward his breast, as though already gathering in the blessings for which He prayed. – Earl Redman, Abdu’l-Baha in Their Midst, p. 37.
Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.
Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.
Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.
Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. Have confidence and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the 5th step.
Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.
Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need.
But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are these words “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out. – Do’a, The Call to Prayer, pp. 27-28.
After tonight’s prayer with my son, I imagine myself as a young child, turning to the prayers of the prophets and wondering “What do I say now?” When I do say my own heartfelt prayers, I try to model them after Baha’i prayers, which often invoke all the loving and mighty qualities and attributes of God:
O God! Educate these children. These children are the plants of Thine orchard, the flowers of Thy meadow, the roses of Thy garden. Let Thy rain fall upon them; let the Sun of Reality shine upon them with Thy love. Let Thy breeze refresh them in order that they may be trained, grow and develop, and appear in the utmost beauty. Thou art the Giver. Thou art the Compassionate. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 34-35.
As the prayer came to a close, I intuitively replied back to my growing boy, “We can ask to be close to God and ask God to ‘guide me and protect me’.” He elaborated, asking for protection from sharp knives and creatures with sharp teeth. I was thinking more along the lines of guidance towards kindly acts and protection from tricycle falls.
But this will not only do for now, it is perfect. Happy Birthday, little big man. Mommy loves you.