By Emilie Bouvier
These days as I settle back into life in Minneapolis, I’ve been sharing a roof not only with two very close friends, but also their two amazing toddlers. Antalya, who is 4, and her little sister Aurelia are the dearest kiddos in my life and an absolute hoot to call housemates.
Yes, sometimes there’s screaming involved over the impending doom of bedtime. Yes, I’m learning unique skills like how to not step in play dough crumbs on the floor (or more accurately, how to get said play dough crumbs out of socks). Yet, it is in and through the controlled chaos that the most magical moments occur.
One of my favorite moments during the first few weeks of living together was when Antalya offered a prayer before a particularly intentional and delicious family meal. She began, “Dear God, thank you for today, thank you for …” and went on to list all the things she was feeling grateful for in our shared life together.
“Since when did I start believing there was a wrong way to offer gratitude?”
My heart swelled – and not only because she was thankful for my presence in their beautiful little family, but also because these were the same words and cadences of my own prayers as a small child. I can’t help but see myself in her. I too at that age began my prayers the same lilting sing-song list of completely free-flowing and un-self-conscious gratitudes.
The parallels continue: She understands prayer, loves her church friends, and even sang a solo of “Amazing Grace” at her church, something that was a big deal for me too at age 3, when I stood up in front of my home church and sang “Jesus Loves Me.”
I SEE THE WAYS THAT this precious one’s parents and faith community form and shape her in the faith. It would be easy enough for me to go on from here to talk about the value of early Christian education or how in my role as a non-familial “auntie” can support and guide this young person’s faith. But that’s not actually what’s most striking to me. Rather, quite the opposite, I realize how much Antalya’s faith is re-shaping for me.
A few evenings later when the girls were at their grandparents’ house for the night and we all sat down for a rare “grown-up” meal, we skipped the prayer all together. I suddenly realized that, although it’s at her parents’ prodding, it is ultimately Antalya who makes sure we pray. Her boisterous personality and complete willingness to pray out loud for all of us makes all the difference.
“I too at that age began my prayers the same lilting sing-song list of completely free-flowing and un-self-conscious gratitudes.”
I cringe remembering my complete lack of desire to contribute to my own family’s spoken dinner table prayer at our Christmas dinner, letting the fatigue of the meal prep and sudden self-consciousness limit my ability to voice free-flowing thanks to God. Since when did I start believing there was a wrong way to offer gratitude? Since when did prayer feel more like pressure, or chore, or self-consciousness than an opportunity for relationship and wonder?
Cutting through all the mental clutter, self-doubt, and distraction in my own spiritual life is Antalya’s feisty spirit for prayer that has brought me back to find center. Just by simply being herself she is helping me recover threads of that early sense of spirit-filled and unabashed joy in prayer. And oh, what wonder to again see how close the presence of God is in our lives and to risk, without second-guessing, naming that out loud.