The church that Stanton, the girls and I attend offers a “children’s time” in the beginning of each service. Two Sundays ago, our pastor led the youngster-focused sermon, which takes place on the steps near the altar. Her message centered on love, and loving one another even though differences may exist among us.
At the end of the sermon, someone raised their hand. From where we were sitting, Stanton and I couldn’t see who it was. The pastor asked, “Yes, do you have a question?”
A familiar voice replied, “I turned four.”
Laughter rippled throughout the church. Stanton looked at me. “Was that Anna?”
“Of course that was Anna,” I said, smiling and shaking my head.
The pastor laughed and kindly said to our younger daughter, “That’s wonderful, that’s a milestone.” Then Reverend Amy asked all of us to pray with her.
She began her prayer by saying, “Thank you, God, for fourth birthdays.” She continued with gratitude for other things, and prayed for bigger things, like unity.
It’s funny, and sweet, how simple (and, well, self-focused) a young child’s outlook on life can be. You want to talk about diversity and unity, finding common ground and/or meeting in the middle? Well…OK, but, I mean…I just turned four, you know.
For Anna’s birthday, we invited a few friends over for a very low-key gathering of unicorn-themed arts and crafts, games, and cupcakes. I am an anxious hostess; I worry constantly that everyone is having a good time, especially the birthday girl.
A side note: My husband may have something to do with my party-planning anxiety. The morning of Anna’s birthday gathering, Stanton turned to me, cup of coffee in hand, and said, “So, when is Anna’s party? What time are we doing that?”
I just looked at him, friends. Just…looked at him.
After the party that day, I knelt down beside Anna. She was sucking on one of the lollipops we had stuffed into the unicorn piñata earlier in the day. (Of course there was a unicorn piñata.) “Did you have fun?” I asked hopefully. “How are you feeling?”
Anna pulled the lollipop out of her mouth and smiled at me. “Happy.”
I turned four. Happy. A lot of times, simplicity hits the spot—no grand gestures or big words needed.
Fourth birthdays are worth remembering, though, are worth saying thank-you for. There’s a lot of blessing in the everyday.
Certainly we celebrate big milestones, and frame and mount above our fireplace mantels the professionally photographed and Photoshopped memories of wedding days, graduations and family reunions. But everyday moments? Those candid-camera shots of high fives and group hugs after winning the neighborhood bar’s Trivia Night, and quiet, contented camaraderie as dusk winds down a backyard barbecue? These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.
One of my favorite quotes is, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is, ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough,” attributed to a 13th-century theologian, Meister Eckhart. Now, I’m not a theologian, and I more comfortably identify as spiritual than specifically religious. This is probably why I feel this quote so much.
Two words, short and sweet. Simplicity, yet gratitude. Grace.
As a prayer, “Thank you” acknowledges something besides ourselves, and beyond ourselves. It doesn’t delve into doctrine, or get caught up in policies and procedures. Doesn’t split hairs about what various Scriptures may or may not mean. “Thank you” simply…acknowledges.
Despite its simplicity, “Thank you” is mighty. “Thank you” acknowledges, I didn’t do this myself. I’ve messed up, I’ve made mistakes, and yet here by the grace of beauty beyond my control and comprehension, this good thing came into my life.
I feel this way about my children, as many parents do. When I kiss Grace good night, or hold Anna’s hand until she falls asleep, I often think, Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Possibly I’m lazy in my relationship with my God. Maybe I should put more time into praying more eloquently. Lord knows I’ll rewrite a blog post, short story or magazine article until I feel the words are just right.
I mean it when I say I may be a spiritually and/or religiously lazy person. I’m not just saying that to be humorously self-deprecating. Saying you subscribe to spirituality, grace and, “Thank you”—just keeping it simple over here, folks!—can be a cop-out for addressing hard questions head-on. Letting yourself off the hook. (I have been known to cringe when conflict and hard questions arise, in other areas of my life.)
At the same time—and I mean this part, too—the times I have felt closest to God have been simple, everyday moments. Kissing my children good night. Picking blueberries with my family at Indian Ladder Farms, mountains majesty behind us.
My most heartfelt prayers have not been recitations of venerable benedictions and creeds, but words like, “Thank you.”
The blessing in the everyday.
These everyday moments are special in their own right, and often more authentic.
Another simple prayer, which I would guess is very popular, is, “Please.” Please let it be OK. Please don’t go until I get there to say goodbye. We often don’t even finish the sentence beyond the first word. Please. Please. Please.
“Please” and “thank you.” It may not be a coincidence that our most turned-to, from-the-heart prayers are these simple social graces we learned as children.
If you think about it, seemingly simple words help us express ourselves in the most profound moments of our lives. They are the words (and the prayers) we turn to when nothing else—nothing bigger, nothing better—will do.
I love you.
Thank God for fourth birthdays.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.