After our last family get-together, our Mormon daughter suggested that at our next gathering, we have a group discussion on prayer. Her kids have noticed, of course, a difference in how our evangelical son and his family say grace before meals. Wart and his family clasp hands while Wart addresses “Dear God” without Mormon prayer language—“thee,” “thou,” and “thy.”
I rather like the practice of holding hands and addressing God as a personal friend while giving thanks for daily sustenance; however, I understand that Lolly’s children are puzzled at what, to them, is unorthodox prayer ritual.
I told Lolly that her dad and I have no problem with non-Mormon prayers and suggested she might invite Wart to share his thoughts about prayer with her kids they next time they meet. Researching forms of prayer found in other religions sounds like a worthwhile Family Home Evening topic, and I think Lolly will address the issue there instead of at a family reunion.
I’m glad our grandchildren from both families are being exposed to prayer from different faiths within our family circle. Learning that people they love and respect belong to churches different from their own prepares children to live in a world of many religions—and no religion.
Our grandchildren also have the benefit of interracial family members. Loving a brown-skinned aunt and Afro-coifed cousins will keep those of strictly European heritage from culture shock when they encounter children of other races at school. Our biracial grandchildren will grow up feeling comfortable in two cultures.
I hope our family diversity will prepare our grandchildren to live in the world Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, and that they will grow up to be the kind of people who judge others “by the content of their character” rather than by their religion or skin color.
While attending BYU, our daughter Lolly lived in a non-BYU-approved basement apartment several miles from campus. The upstairs was rented to a single mother of four pre-school to elementary-age kids. Mindy, the mother, was friendly and took good care of her kids. In other ways she fit the welfare mom stereotype. She had a succession of boy friends who often stayed overnight. The pizza delivery truck brought dinner several nights a week, and beer bottles filled her garbage can after a boy friend’s visit.
Mindy couldn’t pay her phone bill and for several months borrowed the phone in the basement apartment to make calls. I criticized Mindy for setting a bad example for her kids and wondered why she didn’t pull herself together, get rid of the boy friend, stop spending her money on beer and pizza, and get a job.
Lolly shook her head. “Even if she gave up her boy friend, beer, and pizza, Mindy wouldn’t have your life, Mom.” Lolly was right. Mindy had no car and the nearest grocery store was two miles away. She probably couldn’t get a job that would pay enough to cover baby sitting. The boy friend provided transportation and probably cash for the beer and pizza.
Living my Mormon values of Word of Wisdom and chastity would not improve Mindy’s life. I had an education, a good job, a house, a car, a husband—none of which Mindy had. Mindy was trapped in poverty from which she couldn’t escape without help with childcare, job training, and transportation. Mindy was surviving a difficult situation, not as I would, but in the best—probably the only way—she knew.
I don’t know how to help the Mindys of the world. Churches can offer guidance and emotional support, but few have the resources to help destitute people gain financial independence. Of course, not everyone in need is inclined to organized religion—and God doesn’t seem to help people of one faith over those of another. Government programs which provide job training and assistance work for some but not all. There will always be people willing to shift their responsibilities onto others, but does that mean we shouldn’t provide help for any? I don’t have the answers, but Lolly opened my eyes to the fact that it is arrogant to judge people who lack the advantages I’ve had and who may be doing the best they can within their limited circumstances.