When you’re an atheist parent whose extended family is religious, things get tricky. My parents are quite mortified that my daughter has not been (and will not be) baptized, that she has not been indoctrinated with the most familiar of Biblical tales, and that I keep our holiday celebrations secular regardless of whether or not they have religious roots.
My daughter is 7 years old, and when she’s ready, I’ll teach her about a wide variety of faiths and their cultural and political histories. I’ll explain why I don’t hold any religious beliefs, and then leave it up to her to decide what she thinks is true. In the meantime, I have made myself clear on the fact that my parents are not to proselytize.
There is one exception to this rule: prayer at their dinner table.
As they explain, if it’s in their home (which it often is), then it’s their custom and it would be self-absorbed and disrespectful to require them to conform to my beliefs under their own roof. I long ago decided that it’s a battle not worth fighting given all those that preceded it, so I allow it. I don’t pray. I don’t do the Sign of the Cross, utter the familiar words, close my eyes, or bow my head. I simply sit quietly and wait for them to finish so I can start eating.
The praying has spurred a few questions from my daughter that have been largely satisfied by saying, “Nana and Papa believe in something Mommy doesn’t, and that’s how they show it.” But not one content to sit on the sidelines, she recently started asking if she could be the one to lead the prayers… with hilarious results.
Her most recent pre-meal exultations have included:
- “Dear Jesus, go Bears. Give them touchdowns. Thanks.”
- “Dear Jesus, we thank your for iPads because they are fun and have Monster High and stuff. Amen.”
- “Dear Jesus, we give thanks for Thanksgiving and turkeys and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Christmas and Santa. They are good.”
- “Dear Jesus, thank you for giving [my teacher] a baby because I like babies.”
- “Dear Jesus, Hip Hop Reindeer, Festival of Lights, Holly Jolly, and something else I can’t remember.”
- “Dear Jesus, I like swimming. And hot dogs.”
- “Dear Jesus, praying is cool because I get to be in charge. Thanks.”
- “Dear Jesus, please make Santa send me everything I want because otherwise I’m not going to be very happy with you, Mister.”
- “Dear Jesus, I ate cookies today and they were very good. You should eat cookies. Amen.”
- “Dear Jesus, your name is weird. Why don’t you get a new one like Niko or Emma?”
- “Dear Jesus, thank you for Mommy because she lets me do a lot of things and Daddy because he lets me do the rest.”
- “Dear Jesus, [my dog] Molly is very cute. You would like playing with her. Amen.”
- “Dear Jesus, please send some snow because then Christmas will get here sooner and I can open my presents.”
These are just a smattering of her irreverent invocations. My exasperated parents usually insert “thank you for this meal” at the end of her praise sessions before hurriedly doing the Sign of the Cross (which my daughter does backwards). In the end, they know better than to correct her by getting into the reasons why they pray, and I’m certainly not going to deny myself the humor of her mind. If I believed in an omnipotent imaginary friend, I’d be thanking her for the entertainment. For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy my pre-dinner laughs.
(Image via Shutterstock)