As our family sat in Midway Airport one afternoon last summer, I turned toward my seven-year-son, who was suspiciously quiet. He sat a few seats away from me, eyes closed and hands folded, his lips moving silently. I was too astonished not to interrupt him, to confirm what I thought was happening. He opened his eyes and said earnestly, in response to my query:

"I'm praying that our plane will get here so we can go home."

We'd traveled a lot this past summer, including a sojourn to Chicago to drop off our sons to romp with their cousins while Bob and I recharged in Canadian solitude. So it was that Allen had just spent two weeks with my mother, who has few questions about Who is in charge. She is serious about her Pentecostal faith, serious about a God who cares as much about a late plane as about peace on earth, and who, in counting every hair on her head, surely has time to attend to her personal concerns. I was glad my boys had spent two weeks in Vacation Bible School, something that, as Unitarian Universalists, they would never have a chance to do. I saw no harm in their getting a healthy dose of the same traditional African-American faith with which my mother raised me. At least I thought that's how I felt, until I saw my child in prayer.

I had not realized how affected I still was by my own childhood resistance. A religious rebel since the age of 10, I detested rote prayers, I resented recitations of the Our Father said more out of fear of Hell than the love of God. The idea that some prescribed prayer was better than my own stumbling conversations with God always disturbed me. The idea that I had to pray, even when I had nothing to say, disturbed me more. Long before I had children, long before I became a minister, I'd promised myself that I'd never make them pray. Yet I had not compelled him to call on God in a time of need; he'd thought of that himself.

The children and I talk about God all the time; my call to ministry several years ago made discussions of God an urgent matter. At first it was easy. Already consumed with a sense of the world's wonders, they wanted to hear from me about the Being that created the natural world. For weeks after one of these talks, Allen pointed to things--trees, concrete barriers, tractor-trailer trucks--demanding to know if God had made them all. It took a while to sort things out. { I told him, too, that other people had different explanations about how we all came to be, for as a Unitarian Universalist, that is part of our faith as well: to acknowledge the differences in faith and belief among human beings.}

Allen and Daniel know I talk to God; periodically, they want to know what I talk about. I told them I prayed, as nearly all mothers do, for them to be healthy and happy, that I prayed for their father and our lives together. In fact, I pray all the time-in the car, under my breath when the children annoy me, certainly before and during worship. But I pray as an adult does, all the while understanding that the answer God has for me may be nothing like my own plans. I don't expect God to become a giant air-traffic controller, but my son does. The minister in me wants to caution him, urge him to be thoughtful; the mother in me remembers that he is just a child-a baby, really, trusting God as he trusts his father and me, only just growing into his faith.

After he mentioned praying for some other occurrence, he remarked to me, "I think I'm a pretty good prayer." What happens when you don't get what you pray for, I asked him. He shrugged in reply. "Then I just don't get it. But sometimes I do." Already, he glimpsed the complexity of prayer that eludes many an adult heart.

As our sons grow, their father and I keep the focus on helping them acknowledge all that is good in their lives. We long ago taught them to say grace: Allen likes it that we all hold hands; Daniel's favorite part is "Amen." When they talk to me about loving the trees or the wonder of a country sky filled with starlight, I say that the more they love the world, the better it is to thank the Being that created the world. One day, of course, life will disappoint them; something will break their hearts. I like to think they'll tell me about it, and ask me where God is. I'll say God is where God's always been-with us. And I'll pray with them for healing, to help them know that prayer is not just for God's sake, but for ours.

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