Talk about religion makes me nervous. Mostly because I think someone is just about to ask me to believe something. And asking me to believe (or do) anything nearly always has the reverse effect.
Sometimes when I’m driving behind a car with a bumper sticker about God and babies I speed up just to see what someone who so publicly announces his or her position looks like. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for people choosing to practice their desired religion and sharing it with the world – as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. But reading it on your bumper while I’m driving down Highway 40 just makes me a little nervous.
Which makes it all the more ironic that I am writing a blog about our weekly Shabbat dinner.
Sure, there are some overtly religious things that go down each Friday night at our house. We say some prayers, light some candles and bless the kids. But we never set out to talk about religion. Yet somehow it always comes up. Just like it did a few weeks ago. Sitting around the table Kelly, one of our many non-Jewish guests, asked whether we had always done a big to-do on Friday night. We gave her the short(er) version about how we had traveled to Israel and Morocco and that the experience had been impactful enough for us to make changes at home, in large part for our children. Kelly connected on the kid part. She and her husband did not belong to a church. But it was something they wanted for their children.
Watching the clock tick from 1:30 to 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. after being jarred out of sleep by my husband Steve’s snoring, I got to thinking.
Why did I want religion for my children?
I was raised Methodist. Our family’s attendance was spotty and it stopped altogether after sixth-grade confirmation. Back then, my religious take-a-way went something like this: If you are good you can ask God for things and he will help you. So I did. Dear God, please let me do okay on my math test. Dear God, please let Darren like me. These pleas were followed by a laundry list of things I promised to do (or not do), which I probably ended up not doing or doing anyway. (I think they also told us God forgives so I figured he would understand.)
At some point, I stopped asking God for things. Not because I lost faith – though I never excelled at math and Darren dumped me – it just seemed a bit, well, unrealistic.
Last year I started asking again. I didn’t think my pleas were to God like before. More to myself. I wanted to find strength to forgive so I did not wake up miserable every morning. I didn’t want to be that person who honked in traffic and walked around looking like she always smelled something bad. I wanted to be able to see the good in people, even when they made bad choices that hurt me. And I wanted to live my life believing that positive things can come out of even the most devastating circumstances. And it started to work.
A few months ago I was driving somewhere within my five-mile bubble when my son piped up from his car seat.
“God’s inside us.”
“What did you just say? Who told you that?”
“I just knew.”
I physically turned around to check that those words (which I take absolutely no credit for) came out of my five-year-old son’s mouth. And they did.
Was he right? I don’t remember letting God in there, but maybe that’s who I’d been talking to all those months I was searching for a way to save myself from being miserable and bitter. To this day I’m not quite sure what Ben’s words really meant. But I do know whoever it is that’s inside there can stay.
And that’s what I want for my children.
Something inside them that gives them strength.
In a perfect world, I would be there for each of my children in every difficult moment. But I know that’s unrealistic. Sometimes they won’t want me there. And eventually I won’t be there at all. I want them to find that place within themselves that lets them forgive, that helps them see the good in people and that makes them believe even the most trying situations can reap rewards.
Whether they choose to believe that its “God” inside them or “good” inside them doesn’t make much difference to me.
Rebecca Brown, a lawyer and the mother of two young children, works as an adviser at Washington University’s School of Law. She is married to Steve Brown, a lawyer and former Missouri legislator. The Browns live in Clayton and are members of Central Reform Congregation.
‘Dor to Dor’
Editor’s note: “Dor to Dor,” is an intermittent series looking at various aspects of “grown-up” life and generational connections (“dor” means generation in Hebrew) through the lens of Jewish writers living in the St. Louis area. Some of these columns may deal directly with Jewish issues, other may not, but we hope you’ll find each one informative or entertaining or, better yet, both.
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