St. Helen is my daughter’s heavenly friend, and is helping my daughter learn to pray.
Baptized into the Orthodox Church as an infant, she has none of the baggage that my wife and I do as converts to the faith. She loves the iconography and the procession of the priest during the Liturgy. She happily points out the icons of her patron saint and those of the rest of her family.
Lately however, she’s less enthusiastic about bedtime prayers. When I begin to pray the Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer for my Baptist friends), she pulls the blanket over her head. It’s as if she hopes the prayer will bounce off the blanket like a force field.
Rather than push her, I’ve managed to patiently continue the practice of nighttime prayers. Instead of forcing her to cross herself, I gently make the sign of the cross on her tiny body. She doesn’t resist much.
Recently that patience paid off. My little girl discovered for herself that she didn’t want to pray.
She needed to pray.
Praying for Good Dreams
My daughter recently began having nightmares. Waking up to a crying three year old is never fun, but when the crying comes from an internal fear instead of an external wound, all you can do is comfort.
A few nights ago, we began a different kind of prayer. After the Our Father, I asked for the protection of the saints over our family as we slept. Naming each of our patron saints in turn, I asked for their intercession.
“Saint Anthony, pray for daddy. Saint Anna, pray for mommy,” and so on I went, naming each member of her family. After a couple of nights, she let me know she wanted to do the prayer herself. Hearing her ask for the intercession of her “heavenly friends” touched me deeply. And I hoped it was helping her relax before sleep.
The next day I was up having coffee when I heard the thump of her feet. I walked to the foot of the stairs and saw her sleepy face, wearing the smile she gives when she can’t wait to tell me what’s on her mind.
“Daddy! I prayed to Saint Helen and I had good dreams!”
Her Heavenly Friend
There’s certainly no magic to prayer. Christians aren’t casting a spell or invoking a spirit when we petition our God, either directly or through intercession. We ask for God’s blessing, and for the ability to bear all the thorns and snares this mortal world sends us.
My daughter will learn soon enough that praying to Saint Helen isn’t a talisman against bad dreams. But she will also learn that when she feels scared or alone in her darkened room, she isn’t actually alone. Having a heavenly friend to comfort her when Daddy isn’t there will keep her eyes heavenward for a lifetime.
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