Back when I was about ten, my mother did something for Christmas that stands out as an important awakening moment for me as I look back over my life.
It was a simple idea, something for the season of Advent that she probably found in one of the church magazines or devotionals we had. She took a little woven basket that could serve as a manger for a doll-sized baby Jesus and put it in the living room. Then she got a hold of some straw and set it in a pile nearby. (We were living in Southern California at the time so I can't imagine where she found straw!) Finally, she called the family together and invited us to "make a bed for the baby Jesus" by adding straw to the manger, one piece at a time. You were allowed to add one piece every time you did something kind for someone else. There was just one catch: your good deeds had to be anonymous. No one was to know what you had done. It was just between you and God.
Just between me... and God.
Something crystallized that moment in my memory. I can almost see myself standing still, stopped short in my mental tracks by a sudden new awareness. Faith had crosed over into my interior life. If I could have a secret shared just between God and me, then that meant that even when I was alone... I wasn't alone. Someone was there, and we could.... talk.
As an adult, I've asked myself just what it is that I experience as a believer. What do I "get" out of having faith in Jesus that makes a difference in my life? One answer I keep returning to is the fundamental sense that when I'm alone, I'm not alone. There is someone there. It may well be that my mother was the one who first brought me that awareness.
Now, I have a daughter who is twelve and another who is six. I had big plans last Advent of sharing this little faith practice with them. (Oh well, maybe next year.) But yesterday something came up that just may strike the same chord.
My twelve year old didn't want to go to the Ash Wednesday service. Normally she's quite happy to go to worship, but this day she'd had late after school activities, still had homework and chores yet to do, and really needed a shower. She just didn't want to go out again. Cold she just stay home?
I thought about it, and for a variety of reasons I said yes. But then it occurred to me to encourage her to pray by herself after she finished her shower.
By herself. I wondered...
She agreed, and that was how we left it. I took her sister with me and she had the house to herself for a little while. She was certainly accustomed to praying. We pray extemporaneously as a family at meals and at bedtime. But this may have been the first time that she prayed "alone."
I checked with her about it later that evening and she had spent some time in prayer. It sounded pretty normal. She didn't report any great revelations and I didn't want to sugest that she was expected to, so that was that.
Will she emerge into adulthood with a sense, as I did, of the inward companionship of the loving God, as near as her own thoughts?
I don't know, but I'm hoping. And praying.