Prayer Before Sleeping

The other day I was thinking of the phrase that we often toss out when someone we love is doing something that alarms, frustrates or distresses us: "They'll learn."

We can feel so helpless and powerless when the people we love are suffering. This powerlessness can harden us into judgment. Often when I hear the phrase "they'll learn," I feel the presence of an edge of criticism underneath - how our alarm, frustration, and concern has seeped into our love and care.

When we feel this edge of scorn, all the tender parts of ourselves that are struggling and that want to do better shrivel up. Or they panic and start working really hard to make ourselves acceptable again.

I think of times in my life when I've been lost and frozen and I was met with dignity: compassion, acceptance and understanding that was free of judgment. We could call this love. In those moments, something in me softened because I felt supported, completely seen and known. The way forward now felt possible.

Last week I heard a story in a parenting class that beautifully demonstrates this love. A wise grandmother was talking about how she helped her daughter transition into setting her own alarm for school in the morning. When her daughter expressed worry about making a mistake and being late for school, her mom said, "Don't worry. I would never put you in a situation like that without support. I'll help you until you get the hang of it yourself and make sure you get to school on time."

I felt tears in my eyes at her example of how she helped her daughter grow. I was stunned by how differently she supported her daughter than much of what I experience and see. I remember thinking, "What if we all received this kind of support when we were learning new things?" (There's another beautiful example of this kind of care here.)

My heart blooms when I see others loving in this way. But these ways of supporting each other are so counter to our culture and its fixation on punishment that I often feel like I'm in another country, soaking in a new language and new customs.

I yearn to offer others dignity. I yearn to offer it to myself. This dignity is my wish for all of us and became this poem.

Prayer Before Sleeping

When I make a mistake

don't ask me

to pay dearly.

Instead, help me

pay attention. Guide

me in what I don't

yet know.

Slow down

the rush of doing

so I can hear

the rumble that says, stop.

Help me listen deeply.

Help my heart open

so I can see the thrum

that lies beneath.

Help me be gentle

with the places that are sore

And tread softly

on the sharp edges

of wrong doing.

Loosen my grip on regret.

Hold my fear.

Tell me the longer

story of our suffering.

Walk me slowly

down the stairs

where my ancestors' shame

became my wound.

Help me gather together

the pain with kind eyes.

And if kindness isn't possible,

buoy me with hope.

Toss me into the ocean of love

until I float upon the courage

to one day

see differently.

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