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When I was little, my bedtime ritual always included a bedtime prayer, and that prayer always ended with a plea to God to bless the people that I loved.
Jesus tender shepherd hear me,
Bless thy little lamb tonight.
In the darkness be thou near me
Wake me with the morning light
God bless Mommy, Daddy, Chrissie and me.
Because these – my mother and father and sister and myself – were first on my must-bless list. From there I would go on to list everyone else that I could think of – my grandparents, my friends, the cats – and anyone who needed a special blessing – a sick relative, starving children in Africa – was mentioned at the end, kind of like the way Very Special Guest Stars are featured at the end of the opening credits for a TV show. The order of blessings was very important, as was the necessity of including everyone that should be included. I would sometimes lay awake at night worrying about whether I’d been wrong to ask God to bless my cats before my cousins, or whether I’d forgotten someone important, like the Pope, or Jan Brady.
I still lay awake at night worrying about this kind of thing, although not in the context of blessings. I no longer say that particular prayer every night – I say it some nights, and I always slip into the rhythm of the prayer and ask God to bless Mom, Dad, Chrissie and me first, but not every night, and certainly not every time that I pray (when I do pray) – but I do think about the people in my life and whether they know well enough how much I love them and whether I’m doing well by those relationships, etc. This emotional anxiety – which is what it is, really – is all the more acute since my dad died. I’ve worried far too much whether he really knew, all the way down through his bones, just how very much I loved him, and how very thankful to him and for him I was. And so I lay awake at night sometimes, worrying about that, and about whether everyone else who – as I’m now too painfully aware – could disappear at any moment, before I’d had a chance to say thank you and I love you one last time, knows how very grateful I am for their presence in my life.
I wrote a post, over at BlogHer, for their Karma project, that listed the 5 people I most want to thank. What struck me, after I wrote it, was just how very evocative it was – the experience of writing it – of my old evening prayer. Who do I most want blessed? To whom am I most grateful? I was anxious, especially when it came to including a friend. By including one, I would exclude so many others. The temptation was strong to be vague, to limit my list to family, to names that could not be disputed. But to do so would be to deny my heart, and so the whole purpose of the exercise.
My mother and father used to tell me, when I worried aloud about forgetting to including somebody on my blessings list, that it didn’t matter, that God knew what was in my heart, that even if some name had slid into a corner, where I couldn’t see it, it was still there, and He knew it. The recitation of names that I was so attached to, they said, was just for me, so that I could remind myself of all the wonderful people in my life, and remember just how much I had to be grateful for.
I think that the same principle holds for articulating our thanks to people that we love, and for forgiving ourselves when we don’t give thanks – or ask for blessings, or say I love you – as often as we’d like. As long as we are making it a practice to thank our loved ones, ask for blessings for our loved ones, say I love you to our loved ones – and as long as we are carrying that practice in our hearts – we’re good. Because it’s hard to forget to say thank you and I love you – and, more importantly, to show thank you and I love you – when you’re thinking it and feeling it and carrying it with you every day.