I opened my eyes and about six inches in front of me was my little five-month-old girl, resting on her side, eyes closed, mouth slightly open as she gently breathed in and out. Both her arms were outstretched in front of her, her little hands folded onto each other. It looked like she was saying tiny baby prayers. Maybe she was. I imagine we’re never so close to God than when we are at the beginning and the end of our lives, when either life is not yet so complicated, or those complications begin to fade to background as we get ready for something else. Maybe she had been talking to God as she drifted to sleep; I’ll never know.
I’ve been saying my own baby prayers lately. Short, often desperate, little phrases offered up. Please. Help. Be here. Thank you. I’m sorry. How long?
I’m mostly incapable right now of longer prayers or lofty words or detailed lists. My spirit is wearied. It has been for some time. That’s okay. God has been sitting quietly next to me for a long time, waiting patiently for me to find more words. I will someday. Right now, though, it’s enough to just be near.
It’s not that there isn’t anything to pray for. There’s no shortage of heartache and questions and small mercies that I could acknowledge. None of us has ever lived through a time quiet like this before. We’re physically cut off from our communities. We’re spending more time than ever before with our small family units, for better or worse. We’re watching the news, some with fear or confusion, some with cynicism and criticism. We’re losing loved ones in the loneliest way possible.
When my son’s temperature (which I check daily, because I’m anxious about this virus) reached fever level, all I could muster for God through the fear was, “Heal him. Please.” When the number dropped down a couple degrees the next day, “Thank you.”
When I lose my temper with the kids, who have a somewhat regular habit at taking turns crying, I send up a quick, resigned, “I’m sorry.” I say one to them, too. God, and hopefully my kids, know that those two words are standing in for something more akin to, “I’m sorry I lost my temper and was impatient and unkind. Forgive me and help me do better next time.” But in these moments, I can’t muster up that many words, so the original two have to do.
It’s okay, I think. I believe God knows what my small words really mean. How much weight they carry; how much meaning they shoulder. I think he knows — even better than I do — what I’m actually feeling and trying to say. And he knows why these short prayers are the best I can do: because I’m weary of life’s complications, like disappointments and anxiety and misunderstandings, like financial stress and endless to-do lists and missed opportunities, like viruses and cancer and grief.
Even in the best of moments, things are still complicated. I’m grateful to be home to watch my little babies grow and change, but that carries the stresses of motherhood and the bittersweet feeling of knowing they’ll never be this little again. I’m grateful to have all that we need right now — food and an income and the technology to keep in contact with our loved ones — but I know that others don’t have all this. I’m grateful to have friends and family, both near and far, but so sad that no matter how near they are we cannot see or touch them. They cannot see my babies grow and change.
Sometimes life is too much and the words too little. That’s where I am right now. It’s okay.
I opened my eyes and saw my little girl, hands enfolded, little indents marking knuckles on her chubby hands. It was uncomplicated. All that matters to her right now is that her belly is full, her diaper is dry, and she is safe with her mama half a foot away. (Although those pesky teeth do give her trouble as they begin to emerge). Her world is uncomplicated, and looking at her in the early morning light, mine becomes a little less complicated too. This, I think, this is all that matters and it is beautiful. And I close my eyes a little longer, and send up one more baby prayer. Thank you.