Why I Wrote the Prayers
Why the Prayers Have Meant So Much to Me, by Julia Straus
The Courage to Be Myself
Looking in the Mirror
Confusion and Fear
Finding Beauty in My World
The Pain of Growing Up
Pressures in School
Getting Along with Family and Friends
Asking for Help
Living in the Moment
Making a Difference
When I'm Alone
Prayers for My SelfPrayers on My Pillow
was written for my older daughter, Julia. I
started writing the prayers in the fall of 1995, when, at age twelve,
Julia began experiencing many of the physical and emotional changes of
young adolescence. A brave, happy, independent, and outgoing girl was fast
becoming vulnerable, confused, and withdrawn right before my eyes. At the
same time, as a self-employed writer for television, I was carrying a
heavy workload. It seemed that, as the days went by, there was less and
less time to talk with Julia, and more and more need to do so.
There also seemed to be new barriers to overcome every time we did talk.
Suddenly my previously valued and much sought after opinions,
observations, witticisms, and advice were off-base, outdated, and boring.
Suddenly I wasn't listening properly, was hopelessly "out of it," or
"didn't understand." And Julia, who up until now had been forthcoming and
honest about what she was feeling, began responding to my inquiries with a
"whatever" or a silent shrug of the shoulders.
We'd had a tough summer. Julia had found few friends to hang out with at
the beach, so she had spent most of her time alone. Then she and I were in
a frightening car accident in which the car was totaled, though neither of
us was hurt. We both realized our mortality at the same moment, and the
realization stayed with us. I think we also both realized that our
relationship, built on communication that was continual and close, one
that had nurtured and supported Julia throughout her young life, was
changing. The connections between us were breaking down. Even more
important, the connections within Julia herself were breaking down.
Because of numerous factors including age, sex, society, school, and the
accelerated pace of life in the nineties, Julia's sense of self, her very
essence, was threatened.
As I think back, it was Julia who asked me to write the first prayer.
We're not a particularly religious family. I'm Christian, brought up
Episcopalian, and my husband is Jewish. Like many interfaith couples who
marry and have children, we dealt with our religious differences by pretty
much avoiding the topic entirely. Not going to church or synagogue.
Celebrations of Christmas and Passover focused on secular rituals and
family traditions, and observance of Easter, Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashanah
I had taught Julia and her younger sister, Emily, one bedtime prayer--the
only one I ever prayed when I was a child. It's from a 1920 children's
book called TThe Bam Bam Cloc
k, by J. P. McEvoy. It goes like this:
Bless me, God, the long night through,
And bless my mommy and daddy, too,
And everyone who needs Your care,
Make tomorrow bright and fair,
And thank You, God, I humbly pray,
For all You did for me today.
It did the job for ten years. But during that busy, tumultuous autumn,
when I was preoccupied with work and Julia's troubles were mounting, she
asked me to write her a new one. One that might help her go to sleep
instead of staying up until one or two in the morning worrying about . . .
And so I did. The next day I wrote a prayer, in verse. I'm not a scholar
of religion or a person "of the cloth." I believe in an Infinite Being
whom I call God, an afterlife, and the power of prayer. I'm not a poet. I
write television dramas, documentaries, and educational videos.
Occasionally, I've worked on a novel. But I do know the profound
difference between writing from the head and writing from the heart. This
first prayer and all the hundreds after it came from the heart. And that
night I put the first prayer on Julia's pillow.
Each day thereafter, whether we had had a chance to talk or not, I wrote a
prayer for her to pray before she went to bed. Sometimes we read them
together, sometimes she read them by herself, sometimes we talked about
them. And I learned how important they were to her when, one night when I
didn't write one, she asked me where her prayer was. I was careful to
write the prayers in the words and voice that she might have chosen for
herself. Some were tools to help her handle crises in her life; others
were written as celebrations of her victories. Some were meditations on
life cycles and the importance
of acting in faith and love; others were more lighthearted and emphasized
perspective and balance in order to get beyond the intense self-absorption
of her adolescence.
I wrote the prayers having been deeply impressed by Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia
and Peggy Orenstein's School Girls
, books that
stressed the need for parents to maintain connections with daughters
during the early years of adolescence. I was also inspired by Larry
Dossey's book Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of
Medicine, all of Max Freedom Long's books about Huna, especially Growing
into Light, Enid Hoffman's Huna, a Beginner's Guide, Thomas Moore's Care
of the Soul, and the writings of Reverend Sandra Mayo.
The prayers are nondenominational and are based on a very basic three-part
concept. First, they acknowledge the existence of an Infinite Deity or
Absolute Being, who is addressed as either God or Lord. Second, they look
at life from the perspective of the girl who is praying. And third, they
acknowledge and respect the girl's inner self, or soul. Each prayer then
connects and integrates the three. The process is simple and powerful. In
the three-part concept there is a replacement of negative feelings or
thoughts with a positive act of faith.
No matter what life issue a prayer addresses---a problem to be solved, an
anticipated challenge, gratitude, celebration, awareness of the beauty of
nature, despair, loneliness, boredom--the process is the same. An
experience or perception of a young teenage girl along with her ensuing
emotions is recognized and then put into the context of, or sandwiched
between, Inner Self and God.
Within that loving and secure framework, the prayers gently remind the
reader of what she is capable. They present truths and values she can
trust and rely on, such as fearless faith, love, self-reliance,
self-empowerment, and ethical behavior. Many also express the benefits of
courage, generosity, humor, creativity, and risk taking.
The prayers are not guilt-based. The word guilt is never used. Neither are
they requests for what most people pray for--world peace, good health,
better grades, career success, or material goods. The prayers are not
whiny or self-pitying. They encourage girls to look inward rather than
outward for the strength to solve their problems. As a result, they help
girls discover and tap their inner strengths to cope with changes.
The prayers are written in verse rather than prose, not because they are
poems, but simply because that makes them easier to remember. They are
practical, hands-on tools, like a makeup brush or a hammer, except they
are tools of the spirit. They are to be used as very private, very
personal, and very loving Acts of Faith. They work magic because they tap
into our own spiritual energy, which is as real and powerful as gravity
and exists in all of us whether we acknowledge it or not.
The prayers are loosely organized into sixteen sections or categories
addressing different reasons for girls to pray. There's a prayer on each
page because both Julia and I found that praying one new prayer each night
was more than enough to think about. Not all prayers will prove useful to
every reader. However, certain ones will strike an instant chord and
become favorites. And a few of those can become crucial for handling
Each prayer--or, for that matter, any word or combination of words within
each prayer--can be used as a mantra, affirmation, meditation, thought,
chant, song, or daily reminder, either expressed out loud or not. The
prayers are completely flexible. They can and should be copied out and
personalized by the girls who read them. They can and should be wadded up
into small squares and kept in a wallet, backpack, jewelry box, notebook,
diary, or locket. There is space in this book to write new prayers
tailored to meet the different and new needs of each reader.
I believe the prayers have made a positive difference for both Julia and
Emily. One indication is that both girls agreed to share these deeply
personal prayers with other girls. I would like to think that this
demonstration of their glorious inner strength and generosity of spirit
was enhanced by my efforts, but then I can hardly be objective about my
daughters. I am, however, deeply grateful for their existence and the
opportunity I have been given by God to write prayers for them--and you.
I surround myself with toys at night
Just like a little child,
And yet my dreams are different now
With yearnings to be wild.
I pray to keep these two selves safe
Each night before I sleep--
The child in me protected by
The grown-up I'll soon meet.
It's hard to close my eyes sometimes
When deepest needs collide,
The search for self continues strong--
It pulls me like the tide.
Put prayers on my pillow, please,
So I can tread the night
And wake up as the girl I am
To greet, with joy, the light.
Where can I run
When there's no homeplace left?
Where can I hide
When my parents "know best"?
Who can I turn to
When friends turn me down?
Who can I trust
When there's no one around?
What can I say
When the worst has been said?
What can I feel
When my feelings are dead?
How can I cry
When God's love is right here,
Telling me, "Love,
You have nothing to fear"?
Today I woke up empty,
My soul completely flown--
As if my self had lost its way,
My song had lost its tone.
Today I woke up numbed inside,
My feelings paralyzed--
As if my mind had given up
The light inside my eyes.
Today I woke dead-ended,
With no place else to go--
As if my life had come full stop
With nothing left to know.
Today I woke no little girl
But someone not yet here--
As if I'd lost the faith to grow
In God instead of fear.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Prayers on My Pillow by Celia Straus. Copyright © 1998 by Celia Strauss. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.