Dangerous Bedtime Prayers: How to Talk to Your Children About Ferguson

dangerous bedtime prayer
Image by Meredith Hopping

Written by: Meredith Hopping

With the death of Michael Brown 79 days ago, a resounding ripple of “everything is not ok” was sent through the hearts of our community and the world. It was time to take notice, it was time to pray. For some of us, it was time to go and to be.

Our little family, Daddy Nate, Mommy Meredith, 3.5 year old Eleonore and 1.5 year old Frankie found ourselves at prayer meetings at Wellspring United Methodist Church and around Ferguson (7 miles from our home in Overland) on a regular basis.

During one of the first prayer meetings, there was a moment where the Pastor asked all the men in the congregation to stand with their hands in the air and respond liturgically with what has become a familiar reprise:

Leader: Hands Up

Men: Don’t shoot.

And again, and again, and again. It evoked overwhelmed tears of confusion to my eyes. When I looked to my right I realized that Eleonore was standing on her chair with her hands up!

She leaned down, and said:

“Mommy, we are all praising God right now,” and stood back up with hands held so joyfully high they might fly off her arms.

She didn’t realize she wasn’t supposed to be standing with her hands up, because they had only asked the men. For a moment I was in one of those unsure Mommy trains of thought: “Am I embarrassed right now because my daughter is doing something socially inappropriate? Are people staring? Why doesn’t she feel as awkward as I have at any of the prayer vigils and protests when as an extremely tall white woman I’m asked to put my hands up and stick out?

I was quickly humbled to have my eyes opened to what was really happening.

My 3.5 year old daughter considered these shouts of mourning, these cries of desperation and demands for justice from the congregation to be no different than shouts of praise. The beauty of her simultaneous wisdom and naiveté knocked the wind out of me.

I could stop writing right now, and leave you with the picture of a family peacefully and joyfully participating in the events in the community of Ferguson after Mike Brown’s death. But I’m not going to pretend it was all spiritual epiphanies with bows kept in hair and angel children soaking up the history happening in their very midst. Eleonore didn’t say at each event “look, we are all one big family.” In fact there was another prayer service that week where Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived to preach… by the time he arrived, my girls were done.

D-O-N-E.

Done.

Frankie is in a stage where I am the only one who can comfort her. I didn’t want Nate and I both to miss the rest of the evening, and decided to take the girls home. It was a struggle to say the least. Eleonore wasn’t happy about leaving, Frankie wanted desperately TO leave.

I thought we were in the clear once we reached the back of the church, incredibly close to doors that were a beacon of freedom. A few more steps and they could be as loud and as crazy and unruly, as 3.5 and 1.5 as they wanted to be.

As I went to open and step through the door, Eleonore made a break for it running back towards the sanctuary, screaming at the top of her lungs. I was already halfway out the door, and in a moment of desperation I put Frankie down outside, knowing she wouldn’t be able to manage the steps before I grabbed Eleonore. I ran like I hadn’t since Jr. High Basketball practice (they thought my height might be an advantage, but I just ended up singing the National Anthem and then sitting on the bench), grabbed the hem of Eleonore’s dress as she was about to turn the corner to run down the center aisle, scooped her up, and sprinted back out the door to find Frankie crawling down the first step. Realizing I wasn’t going to win any Mommy awards for leaving my 1.5 year old  alone outside in Ferguson the week after Michael Brown was killed, I found myself bright red in the face, overheated, and ready to be home. Like a third string football player running for a touchdown with two footballs, I bolted for the car.

I got the girls to bed hastily and sat on the couch with a glass of wine and a half empty bag of Trader Joe’s chocolate chips and breathed a deep sigh of defeated relief.

Then the words I had just prayed with Eleonore repeated over and over in my head:

and please be with all those who are lonely and in need.”

We have prayed those words with her all of her 3.5 years. A bedtime liturgy, a mealtime liturgy, a constant reminder that all is not right with the world, but that we serve a God who comes and meets us in those places of loneliness and need.

Defeated as I felt, I realized that after Michael Brown’s death, I was shown how scary and real of a prayer it is to pray in a way I hadn’t seen or acknowledged before.

When people ask “how are we supposed to talk to our children about Ferguson?” I have to implore to them and myself, “Why did any of us think we had to wait for Ferguson?” We should be embarrassed and ashamed that the injustice in our world, our community, outside our doorstep hasn’t wrecked our hearts enough. We know from scripture how horribly it wrecks the heart of God.

We can start so simply by praying that prayer: “and please be with all those who are lonely and in need.” And we need to be ready when we do, because  sometimes, when you ask God to be with all those who are lonely and in need, God is going to send you.  You will have to put up your awkwardly long arms, stretch out your rather large hands, and shout with your nasally tinged voice. When you do, if you’re lucky, you won’t be able to tell if what is coming out  is mourning or praise.

May we all be so lucky, teach our children the same, and maybe even allow them to teach us.

“We can surely no longer pretend that our children are growing up into a peaceful, secure, and civilized world. We’ve come to the point where it’s irresponsible to try to protect them from the irrational world they will have to live in when they grow up. The children themselves haven’t yet isolated themselves by selfishness and indifference; they do not fall easily into the error of despair; they are considerably braver than most grownups. Our responsibility to them is not to pretend that if we don’t look, evil will go away, but to give them weapons against it.”

Madeleine L’Engle-A Circle of Quiet

Meredith Hopping is a tall, loud, wife, mother, and (attempting) Christ Follower. She appreciates transparency, so know it’s a safe bet she asked her husband to go to Taco Bell at 11 pm last night for a Nacho Cheese Dorito Taco while saying “tomorrow is the day we will start doing Paleo.” You can check out more of said transparency at www.thehoppinghome.com.

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2 comments

  1. Meredith, just finished reading your Hoppinghome.com blog and was very impressed how well you expressed your self. Can relate to your feelings about yourself in school. At 5 foot 9 1/2 inches tall I was the tallest girl in my class. Besides my height I was Very thin, had big feet and was blessed? with protruding teeth. Didn’t give me very much self confidence. Low and behold I caught the eye of this tall, black hair rather good looking boy who turned out to be your Grandfather. I was l5 at the time and he thought I was too young, but when he came home on leave from the Navy from overseas and I was 17 then and had graduated from high school, we started dating. Two years later we were married. Am sure you inherited your height from your Owens genes since your Grandfather was 6 feet 4, your Father 6 feet 6, your Aunt Dana is 5 feet ll and others in the Owens family tall. I mourn the fact that I have lost 3 1/2 in height from the 5 feet 9 1/2 inches that was my height as a teenager.
    You are a beautiful woman and I am proud of your accomplishments thus far and am sure there are more to come in your life. You and Nate have two beautiful daughters, I love the pictures you post on Facebook of your family. Hopefully we can see one another before too long.

    Love to all of you, Grandma

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