Sitting down for dinner, my wife, two-year-old son, and I began eating. “PRAY!” my son shouts, which is perfect because we have been trying to introduce him to Christianity and spirituality. Frankly, though, he is doing more to introduce it to us. In moments like these, we realize our habits have become lax over the years to the point that we forget to even pray before dinner.
A typical prayer with my son consists of something like, “Thank you Jesus for this day, this dinner, and for your love. Amen.” We try to keep it simple—you know, because he is two with a short attention span. In reflection, I think the prayers could be longer because the moment I say “amen,” he’s usually saying, “Pray mommy! Pray daddy!” As in, he wants to keep going.
My two-year-old son thanks Jesus for more than I do.
It is strange sometimes to realize the spiritual depth in our children. Just the other day he was playing with his toys while I was reading a book. I felt that urge come over me, and gave a loud sneeze (try as I might, sneezing quietly is liable to pop my eyeballs). What my son did next startled me: “Bless you,” he said. I did not know he even knew the phrase, let alone when to use it!
A few years ago, I worked for a company consisting of one boss and two employees, of which I was the only Christian. Saying, “bless you” elicited eye-rolls, so I eventually stopped. I’m not the type to push my faith, and given their reactions, I felt that’s exactly what they thought I was trying to do. Therefore, I stopped saying it. Unfortunately, I lost the habit of saying it whenever anyone sneezed.
Now I get it, the practice is archaic. We do not know the exact origin of the phrase, but we commonly believe that it began with the early Christians. They thought that sneezing blew out a person’s soul—or worse, evil spirits could come in and take over.
The word they used for breath was pneuma, and thus a sneeze was literally blowing out their pnemua. This world also meant “spirit” or “soul,” and thus the early Christians believed that one’s breath was their spirit. You can see why this might gave rise to the idea that sneezing was literally blowing out a person’s soul. Thus, a passerby would speak the phrase gitses, or “bless you,” to ward away evil.
Today of course, we understand that sneezing has nothing to do with the spirit, but the practice seems to have stuck. Perhaps it reminds us of a more spiritual way of viewing the world.
Prayer, on the other hand, is not archaic. As Richard Foster writes,
“To pray is to change. This is a great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control.” (6)
Prayer is not just some simple conversation we have with God. Whatever the content of our prayers (be it requests, thanks, joy, anger, lament, you name it), prayer is a vehicle to change—a change, I might add, to the betterment of who we are.
So while my son saying “bless you” might simply be a polite thing to do (whoever he got it from), teaching him to pray guides him towards a deeper, more powerful personality. In essence, we have begun the process of change within his life, a change that will come out in the way he treats his friends, family, and eventual coworkers.
Whether it is an archaic practice or a vehicle for change, the fact is your children are watching you. Like with my own, they will learn practices you display in front of them. If you don’t believe me, answer this: How long did it take you to break them from swearing after they heard you curse?
My son is my mini-me. He wants to do everything I do, and the example I set for him teaches him. This will eventually be the example he sets for his own children. It is the example you set for your children that they will pass on to their own children.
What have you unknowingly taught your children? Is it a vehicle for good, positive change, or are you struggling to now break them of it?