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the awkward courage of a blessing

the awkward courage of a blessing

. 3 min read

I heard once that, on a kibbutz, on the Sabbath, Jewish parents lay their hands on their children and pronounce a blessing over them. This sounded so lovely that, for years, I wanted to do it on those quiet Sunday evenings as my family lingered around our candlelit dinner table. Sunday dinner routinely consists of oven-warmed precooked chicken nuggets on paper plates; we are not fancy. I imagined children with quietly reverent faces basking in the words prayed over them, these words like seeds taking root in the soil of their soul. After a couple of years of vaguely having the intention to do this, to bless my children, I plucked at random an empty journal off the shelf, one a friend gifted to me that’s light purple and leathery with the words “Story of my Life” stamped on it in flourishing letters. I sort of hate it. But I love my friend and it reminds me of her and it was the one virgin journal I had so, I sort of love it. I will write all these blessings in this journal. I prepared this Sunday evening to start blessing the children, all gathered around the dinner table, but the words stuck in my throat.

Pronouncing a blessing, receiving a blessing, these things felt awkward and clumsy, like a gangly adolescent boy after a growth spurt, not quite sure what to do with his suddenly man-sized arms and legs. How do you invite someone to receive a blessing? What do you even say? What makes me qualified to give these things away, anyway?

Because, not only do I want to bless my children, but I want to bless the world. Every human, house, tree, whatever, that I encounter. The world needs more words of grace and that’s what I want to do, to let these blessings drop from my lips like blossoms in Spring. Written out in front of me on the lined page of the journal that I love-hate, 35 words for each child. Something that will take me 15 seconds per child to pronounce. I paused, not out of reverence or trying to savor the moment, but because my throat closed up, my palms got clammy, my heart started to beat a little faster. I was uncomfortable. Afraid? Blessing my own children required me to summon every ounce of courage I had. Builder-husband read my apprehension and launched in to help me, “Kiddos, Mom’s going to bless you now.”

“What is she going to do?”

“Will it hurt?”

Builder-husband rolled his eyes. “She’s just going to hug you and read some words she wrote, asking God to bless you. Who wants to go first?”

The children sat stock still, avoiding our gazes, like the deer in our forest who know we can see them before they bound off.

“We don’t have to pray or talk or anything, do we?” said the middle child. “I don’t like praying out loud, it makes me nervous.”

“The oldest goes first,” Builder-husband decreed.

I weaved my arms around the oldest, over half-way through his childhood now. Everything in him seems ready to explode into the next stage. Writing these blessings, I tried to pray for what was most true and most beautiful about them. Would the blessing even make a difference? I read: “May the work of your hands bring joy and understanding to the world. May your delight and curiosity illuminate hearts and minds and change all the worlds, big and little, you inhabit, encounter, and inherit.”

He hugged me a little tighter before letting go and made that contented sigh he’s made since he was a baby when you hold him. How much longer will I hear that?

Released from my arms, he told his younger siblings, “you know, that wasn’t too bad.”

Afterward, a minute later that felt like a year. It was done. Why did it feel like a year? Because it took all my courage to say these words aloud? Because, cosmically, time slows down when you intentionally ask for the best and truest thing? Because this red wine on a Sunday evening is very good? Because the children laugh together around the table? Is it because the tapers flicker in the quiet, darkened house? Or because dinner clean up is easy?

I see it, now, what these blessings are actually doing: they’re building identities on a solid foundation of God’s love. Words create worlds. We know this from Genesis. What kind of worlds could I help call out into creation? Is this what blessings do?

“I’m going to fill this journal up with blessings and then write a book about it,” I announced to Builder-husband, a little recklessly, like I’ve just accepted a huge, ridiculous dare from the universe. “Even if it doesn’t go anywhere. I’m still doing this.”

Builder-husband smiled.