When I was little, I used to say the same prayer every night after I got into bed.
No, it wasn't "now I lay me down to sleep", the Lord's Prayer, or anything else anyone had already written down for us to memorize. I would never have had the common sense to save myself the extra effort that way.
Every night I would wait until the room was completely dark and quiet and I thought nobody else was awake to hear me, and would ask that my family be okay, that my friends be okay, and that my enemies be okay, too.
I was six. Who prays for the health of their enemies at six years old?
I didn't have enemies!
Unless you counted the creepy older kid from three blocks over who used to harass us or run over our stuff with his bike, although he was less than enemy than he was kind of a simple fact of the universe that we were forced to endure and avoid.
It still seemed important to wish the best for these antagonists who had yet to exist, in case I suddenly materialized them one day.
Eventually I started adding in a quick request for forgiveness at the end. I had a lot to ask forgiveness for, and it simply seemed to save time to just ask to be forgiven for all of it, rather than taking the time to list it all out. I'd never have had the time to sleep, otherwise.
I think I made a point of asking for forgiveness for me and for my enemies.
I was really concerned with making sure my enemies were taken care of.
(By the time I was eight, of course, I kind of did have actual enemies. Although in my defense, my whole class at school was basically a murder mystery waiting to happen.)
Those rote and routine prayers were pretty comforting at the time.
My prayers have changed up somewhat since then. Praying now is a little more... in the moment.
Now you'll hear less 'forgive my enemies' and way more 'Please God, tell me she didn't throw up in her crib." or "What do I need to do to get her to take a freaking nap today?". Sometimes we shake things up and add in "Please tell me there's a reason Jason got fired at 8 AM on a Monday morning the day after we get back from vacation and it's not just a cosmic joke to pile on top of everything else this past year."
The answers have changed, too.
The answers back then used to be mainly that I would wake up feeling a little easier on myself and the world, my six-year-old self feeling a little less worried. The truth about anxiety is that you're never not worried; it's a spectrum with no beginning and no end. When I began to research anxiety disorders - and was professionally diagnosed with mine - I found that it isn't an 'adult problem'. In retrospect, I've been prone to irrational fears and worry since I was very little, indeed.
Saying those same words out loud (albeit in a don't-wake-up-my-sister whisper) every night helped me fall asleep without worrying about how I'd messed up that day in kindergarten or whether or not my best friend actually liked me or why kids in class seemed more interested in making fun of me for reading than in doing it themselves and if that meant maybe I shouldn't read so much, either. (Hint: It didn't mean that. It never means that.)
I think that was the answer, in the end - that I could feel the knot in my chest, which has been basically my first and most constant companion in life, untangle itself for just a few minutes every night. I felt the same way during my favorite hymns on Sundays.
The answer to my prayers now is a whole different unraveling.
It's my baby, fighting off the latest stomach bug she picked up God knows where, curling her head under my chin after finally drinking enough for me to stop worrying about dehydration. It's the first time she wakes up happy and not crying in two days. It's when she is in my arms and holds hers out to Jason not because she wants him to take her, but because she wants us to have a family hug.
It's watching a child who could barely be cajoled into playing with her own toys one night scoot with determined speed to get her hands into the dog's water bowl the next.
I hope I can teach Audra (and, hopefully, her eventual siblings) to pray that way. Not to even really expect much out of the words in terms of a tangible reward, but to say them as a way of removing those things that otherwise weigh us down. As a way to unravel the knots of the anxiety. It's a conversation that doesn't have to move mountains every time - maybe just a few grains of sand.
The answers to my prayers are the moments that I realize I haven't worried about anything for ten whole seconds. A minute. Fifteen minutes. Even an unheard of whole hour of feeling pretty much at peace after a prayer.
I find myself sneaking into her room after she falls asleep, just to lay my hand very slightly on her back and feel it rise and fall with her breathing, and whisper a few more prayers on her behalf.
Of course, then there's the time 'sneak into her room' means 'attempt to sneak into her room, trip over the wipes box that is somehow in the middle of the floor, accidentally kicking it into the wall with a bang that the neighbors probably heard three houses down.
Those whispered prayers were probably the most fervent of all.
(This post was written as a response to the #WholeMama prompt "Prayer" for this week. The other post I've written using their prompts is here. Find out more information, and read posts by other bloggers on this week's prompt here.)