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The miracle of childbirth transforms people. Parents and grandparents feel mesmerized watching each infant emerge and evolve into an intelligent, creative being with unique personality traits and proclivities. We wonder: What is my role in sculpting this soft, sweet ball of human clay? The way we spend our time, the words we speak, and the sheer number of times we cuddle will all gently influence the child’s destiny, even though genetics have already programmed so many indicators of personality and potential.
Today’s parents refer to an arsenal of books, websites, friends and paraphernalia to help them become the best parents they can be. They may study ways to educate their child at home, and may sign up for school waiting lists while the baby still wears diapers. In wealthy communities, they price out everything from beds to backpacks to intercoms to car seats. Sometimes parents forget a simple parenting aid that comes free of charge and never needs revision, a new battery, a subscription renewal or a systems update: Prayer.
I know Baha’is who begin praying for their children still at rest in the womb, and who help their babies hear the cadence of prayer even while too young to understand the words. They discuss concepts and memorize daily prayers as they teach their toddlers, and they use prayer to calm their children at ages when some parents struggle to find adequate means to teach impulse control or mindfulness.
When my own children were young, we prayed and read inspirational quotes together daily and also during a weekend tradition spending time at the lake, but I also prayed very hard on my own for them to maximize their potential. Amazed, I realized that they soon could read and think and theorize beyond their years. Where were these prayers leading them? It became a little scary to me at times. Ah, I realized, I had not spoken specifically enough in my prayers. I began to pray that they would maximize their potential to serve humanity.
I saw an almost immediate change. Over the coming years, their interests took on a more expansive scope. They thought about how their skills fit into a broader global context, how their science or literacy or language skills could solve environmental challenges or unite and uplift people who needed more equity or empathy. They set life goals and career paths based on this sense of purpose. I felt such relief.
Only when they had reached well into adulthood did I realize that I also needed to pray for my children to maximize their potential to find personal happiness, by starting families and experiencing the love that comes to parents as they have their own children. My prayers aligned with their evolving steps toward family life, sometimes confounding coincidence. What a fascinating realization, to see how effectively prayer can help us serve our children’s needs during all phases of life.
My children were half-grown when I learned of the Baha’i Faith and its beautiful prayers, and began to use them for a child’s development and a parent’s hopes and dreams. What a boon the Baha’i Writings have become. As I began to meditate on these prayers while working to help children link education with service to humanity, my “family” grew to include children in schools around the world. Prayer became a plumb line for me, helping me face with inspiration and integrity the obligations that assailed me to offer this extended family the same sense of purpose I sought for my own children. Miracles have fallen into my life for the past 23 years as a result of the third prayer listed in this essay, a prayer so powerfully and frequently answered. I wish that same gift for every parent of faith, because prayer lies so close within our grasp.
May the following prayers by Abdul-Baha provide inspiration to enhance your specific appeals as you raise your children and grandchildren, cradling each sweet ball of human clay with wonderment, to discover who they might become.
A Daily Prayer for Pregnant Mothers:
O my Lord, I dedicate that which is in my womb unto Thee. Then cause it to be a praiseworthy child in Thy Kingdom and a fortunate one by Thy favor and Thy generosity; to develop and to grow up under the charge of Thine education. Verily, Thou art the Gracious! Verily, Thou art the Lord of Great Favor! – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 66.
A Daily Prayer for Young Children to Understand and Memorize:
O God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful. – Ibid., p. 36.
A Parent’s Prayer that Children will Find a Purpose for Unique Talents:
O Thou kind Lord! These lovely children are the handiwork of the fingers of Thy might and the wondrous signs of Thy greatness. O God! Protect these children, graciously assist them to be educated and enable them to render service to the world of humanity. O God! These children are pearls, cause them to be nurtured within the shell of Thy loving-kindness. Thou art the Bountiful, the All-Loving. – Ibid., p. 34.
A Parent’s Prayer that Adolescents will Embrace Service and Spiritual Leadership:
O Lord! Make this youth radiant, and confer Thy bounty upon this poor creature. Bestow upon him knowledge, grant him added strength at the break of every morn and guard him within the shelter of Thy protection so that he may be freed from error, may devote himself to the service of Thy Cause, may guide the wayward, lead the hapless, free the captives and awaken the heedless, that all may be blessed with Thy remembrance and praise. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful. – Ibid., p. 37.
A Parent’s Prayer that Youth will Offer Inspiration to their Generation:
O Thou kind Lord! Graciously bestow a pair of heavenly wings unto each of these fledglings, and give them spiritual power, that they may wing their flight through this limitless space and may soar to the heights of the Abha Kingdom. O Lord! Strengthen these fragile seedlings that each one may become a fruitful tree, verdant and flourishing.
Render these souls victorious through the potency of Thy celestial hosts, that they may be able to crush the forces of error and ignorance and to unfurl the standard of fellowship and guidance amidst the people; that they may, even as the reviving breaths of the spring, refresh and quicken the trees of human souls and like unto vernal showers make the meads of that region green and fertile. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful; Thou art the Bestower and the All-Loving. – Baha’i Prayers and Readings (Australia), pp. 356-357.