When I told my wife, Carole, and our three children that I'd been accepted by one of the teams in the local adult hockey league, the reaction of our 9-year-old daughter, Casey, caught me completely off guard. "I knew you'd make the team," she said. "I prayed you would."
It wasn't her confidence that surprised me; kids her age still routinely believe that their parents are capable of almost anything. What surprised me was her admission that she had prayed.
Bringing prayer into our children's lives has been a long-term project for Carole and me, and one that has at times met with about as much success as the Donner party. Our objective was simple: We just wanted our kids to have a feeling of connectedness to God and access to the comfort that only faith can provide at times of anxiety, pain, and loss. But the format we had decided on--group prayers at bedtime--was, in retrospect, a mistake, perfectly designed to bring any simmering sibling rivalries boiling to the surface.
We first tried group prayers when the kids were 8, 7, and 4 years old. Peter, the 7-year-old, took to it with his usual enthusiasm for performing. A miniature televangelist with an audience of four, he concocted elaborate requests for divine intervention on behalf of the rain forest, starving children, and, at play-off time, the New York Rangers.
Four-year-old Sara's take on prayer was that it presented a unique opportunity to settle old scores. She blabbed her siblings' transgressions, ostensibly to the Father but in actuality to the father: "Dear God, thank you for Mama, Baba, Peter, even if he threw my teddy bear down the stairs, and Casey, even if she's mean and won't let me play with her dumb game."
Casey, on the other hand, wouldn't--or couldn't--get into the spirit. She had never been one to pour out her feelings to her parents, let alone to God.
So I told her about the rainbow.
On our 18-hour journey to the Republic of China, Carole and I had been doing a lot of praying ourselves. What we'd prayed for was an end to our long wait for a child. After years of trying to have a baby, we wanted to adopt; and for more than a year, we'd been waiting for word from an agency in Taiwan. Not having heard anything encouraging in some time, we decided to go there and take charge of things ourselves. But when we arrived at the airport halfway around the world, we didn't have an inkling as to whether our long journey would bear fruit.
As our car picked its way through the downtown traffic, a tropical downpour was just ending. I was thinking to myself how perfectly this murky, unsettled weather mirrored the state of my heart when it happened. In the blink of an eye, the clouds parted and an enormous rainbow broke out above the city skyline.
I'm not talking about a dinky smudge of color but, rather, a rainbow to rival the one God sent to Noah as a sign that those 40 days and nights of world-ending rain were over. Carole turned to me, and at that moment we both knew--in the way that you know your own name or that the morning will follow the night--that everything would work out.
The next day, a nurse placed a tiny premature infant in our arms. She was too sleepy to do much more than briefly open her eyes.
Casey, now 11, still often asks for that story at bedtime. I used to think she was fascinated with the story because it was about her and her place in the family. But since her admission that she prayed for me, I understand her request in quite a different way: I think she sees it as an assurance that God has plans for everyone, whether it's bringing her 10,000 miles to a family that loves her or getting her dad into a hockey league. And those plans are always shaped by His love and concern for us.
Maybe we were never able to make a go of group prayers, but our children have faith to call on when they need it. What more could a parent pray for?