By: Dennis Bates
The earliest memory I have of praying is with my mother. When I was little, we would say that classic children’s pray:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
God bless, mommy, daddy…..
It’s a simple little ditty, and one which has been criticized by some of the more intellectually enlightened children’s specialists as being inappropriate for young, impressionable minds. The criticism is that you will somehow damage a child’s fragile psyche by mentioning death to a small child. Therefore, the line that says “If I should die before I wake…” shouldn’t be used because it will frighten a small child.
That’s social science nonsense, as far as I’m concerned, but that might be redundant. I’ll drop that for now. That prayer did several things for me that have stayed with me into my 60s. First, it taught me to pray. That lesson alone was worth the effort. It also brought my mother and I closer together both spiritually and physically for a few minutes every day.
No matter what had happened during the day, or what might happen tomorrow, I knew that for a few moments right before I went to sleep, I would be safe, comforted and loved by my mother and we would get to talk to God together. I looked forward to that intimate time with both of them.
Also, to the contrary of what the soft science theorists claim, I felt at peace talking about what would happen to me if for some reason I did die during the night. I was taught from an early age that Heaven was a beautiful place where we would all go when we died, and I was taught that God took care of people that went there. So, it made me feel safe knowing that God would take me and my soul to Heaven if something happened to me. It didn’t frighten me a bit.
Another thing I liked about the prayer was that it was always the same. I know there is a camp out there that says that rote prayers are the eighth deadly sin, and my response to that is you must not realize that most learning that lasts is rote at the beginning. How did you learn your multiplication tables, for example? Did you first delve into the subtle nuances of mathematical theory, or did you simply memorize that 3 times 3 equals nine? Back in the day we memorized and those things stuck with us forever.
It’s the same principle with prayer. Which is better, rote prayer or no prayer? Rote prayer is, after all, at least prayer. Faith can be built on that, and I sometimes think we would be a lot better off and a lot more spiritual if we memorized simple prayers and liturgies and repeated them over and over until they became part of who we are, just like multiplication tables used to be. Get those routine communications with God into our hard drives first; learn what they mean later, if you have to.
We said that simple little prayer with our children every night until the daily demands of music lessons, homework assignments and our own evening activities somehow crowed that prayer time out. Looking back, I wish we would have continued to make time for it, instead of the other things that seemed more urgent. The prayers were more important, and they still are.
If the truth were known, when I get overwhelmed, confused, frightened and buried in worry, I often see my mother kneeling beside my bed saying “Now, I lay me down to sleep,” and for a moment at least, I feel the comfort of those words and our intimate bedtime conversations with God. That’s a pretty special thing to be able to fall back on, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.