"Mommy, last night I had a nightmare because I forgot to say a prayer," Harper whispered solemnly as I lay beside her in bed.
The cynic in me wanted to explain that we don't always get what we pray for, that prayer isn't a magic equation for happiness, and that often God doesn't have the same plan for us as we have for ourselves, even if that means being scared sometimes. I wanted to save her imminent disappointment and tell her that fear, pain and suffering are a part of life, with or without the presence of prayer.
Instead, I squeezed her tightly and said "Well, it's a good thing you said a prayer tonight, isn't it?"
She smiled sweetly and drifted peacefully to sleep, completely enveloped in the comfort of unadulterated faith.
As I lay next to her, I longed to feel the simplicity of childhood, before earnest belief was tainted by experience, intelligence and skepticism. I lamented the days of "good guys" and "bad guys", of happiness without complexity or the inevitable reality of sadness. I yearned to believe without the ominous heaviness of doubt that a prayer could exact precisely what was intended.
We tend to see "growing up" as a positive event; that shedding our naivety and ignorance for critical thinking and realism is a step forward. We spend years in school being taught to deconstruct and analyze, to not accept anything at face value. We are encouraged to scrutinize facts with suspicion until proven with viable evidence.
And then we are expected to compartmentalize "faith" in a safe little box separate from analysis, criticism and deconstruction. We intend for our faith to be unaffected by our new, "mature" perspectives. But how?
I thought about these things as I watched Harper sleep, cuddling the seven stuffed animals she had chosen for that night's slumber. I wondered whether "growing up" was all it is cracked up to be. Is it really progression to have wonder, awe and perfect faith erode like a trickle of water that slowly creates a chasm over the years? Is it truly advancement to allow reality and faith adopt-to an extent- an inverse relationship?
Laying beside her, I was consumed with the maternally universal desire to keep my child in a box, as though to preserve her innocence and purity, pickled in a vat of love, happiness and rainbows (and probably horny toads and Batman, for these are a few of her favorite things.) I had never before felt this desire so strongly. Because I had always idealized intellect and intelligence, I assumed I would want my daughter to strive for acumen and genius.
Now I just want her to believe that Batman altruistically catches "the bad guys" and puts them in jail, that California is on the other side of "Planet Earth", that five is just about the largest denomination fathomable, and that prayers are a repellent force field for fear and sadness.
It's not that I think brilliance and faith are mutually exclusive. But after tonight, if I had to choose between the two for my young daughter, I would hope that she maintains her perfect faith rather than become an intellectual powerhouse.
Now I'll go and check on her, rearrange her seven stuffed animals and make sure she's warm and tucked-in.
And I bet she won't have nightmares tonight.