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Baby blessings

Tomorrow, I’ll be blessing our new twins at our sacrament meeting. For those unfamiliar with this practice, Mormons give what’s call a priesthood blessing or a baby blessing to new-born infants shortly after they’re born: it’s a brief prayer (hopefully!) that blesses them and their future with everything good you might want for you children: health, learning, a fulfilling life, family, etc.. It’s one of my favorite Mormon rituals, a chance for friends and family to gather around and celebrate new birth–not unlike Catholic baptism, except there’s no redemptive significance attached to the blessing.

This past week, I’ve tried to take some time and think about what I might say. For our first, Dorothy, I gave it no real forethought at all, until I was suddenly standing in front of dozens of people, holding my week-old infant in my trembling hands, and stammering out whatever words, all while trying to make sure I didn’t drop her on her head (which would necessitate a whole different kind of blessing). It was a nice experience, but forgettable: I don’t remember a word I said.

So I’ve tried to take approach these blessings a little more thoughtfully. Reflecting on them has opened up an important question that I’m sure every parent confronts at some point or another: what, exactly, do I want most for my child? After dismissing the first thoughts that come to mind–“to give me a moment’s rest,” to not make their teenage years a living hell for me,” “a fantastic job that will give me the retirement of my dreams”–I try to move on to deeper, weightier matters: what kind of people will they become? What will they value in life? What kind of education and jobs and families will they want? Will they ever reach those dreams?

The answers to these sort of “life goals” might seem obvious and predictable at first: for them to grow up and be wonderful people–generous, warm, caring, responsible–and to enjoy all those things I’ve found satisfying in life–a good family, a chance to learn and go to school, Christian principles to live by, etc., etc. And I don’t just wish these things for my kids–I think they’d be great for everyone to have. But having to consider how I might answer these questions for someone else, even and especially for my little girls, makes the baby blessing that much more daunting and perhaps a tad silly: am I really about to create a life-wish-list for Ruby and Norah before they can even digest food properly? Is a baby blessing more than just an opportunity to project my own desires on my kids, a chance to hoist my own expectations onto their little lives, parental expectations that they–like all kids, everywhere–will never fully live up to? I’d love to bless them to get married in the temple and have wonderful kids, but what if that’s not on their life’s horizon, by their own choice of not? What if going to college isn’t what they have in mind? Do I bless them to fulfill this cookie-cutter life anyways? I’ve tried to go into this parenting thing fully aware that my kids will have their own lives one day, that they’ll probably regret or laugh at or maybe even hate some way that I’ve raised them. Should I bless them to live the life I want for them anyways?

Not that Ruby and Norah will pay close attention to what I’m saying anyways. If luck has it, they’ll just sleep through the whole thing or maybe burp up on the bishop or something. Plus, I want to be sensitive to inspiration on this and consider what would God have me say here–though I still can’t shake the reality that I’m ultimately responsible for the words broadcasted over the microphone. I guess the “safe” route would be to bless them to develop those virtues that anyone would want their children to have: integrity, hope, charity, confidence. So I’m probably over-thinking this whole ordeal: I’ll check off the standard lists of “I bless you that…” and be done with it.

Or maybe it’s more helpful to focus on the “unsaid” messages of a baby blessing. One of the reasons that I’m drawn to the rite is that it’s not only a call for divine guidance for this new baby through life, but the very act suggests how committed and dedicated the parent is in all of this. Even as the father says “I bless you that…,” turning the baby over to God’s care, he is also subtly saying “And I’m going to be there, every step of the way to help you with this. I love you and care for you. You’re stuck with me.” A baby blessing not only calls on God to watch over the kid, but it witnesses that the parents are all in on this, that they’re committing to do their best to make these child’s dreams–even and especially if they’re different from the ones their parents have for them–become reality. Their life is meaningful and eternally rich and important for both their heavenly and temporal guardians.

When I was a missionary in Mexico, we met a young woman who wanted to join the church and be baptized. Soon after baptism, we were explaining all of the other “minor” rituals the church has: home dedications, blessings for the sick–then we got to baby blessings. “I want one of those,” she said. My companion and I looked a bit confused: um, you’re 26 years old–that’s kind of a “one-time” type of deal. It doesn’t play an eternal role, like baptism or something, so it’s no big deal if you missed out. “I know,” she replied. “But I never got one, and I’d like a baby blessing.” Looking back on her situation, I guess I can see where she’s coming from: she was never close to her parents; she was raised by relatives who cared for her but never totally loved her; she was very shy, had very little self-esteem, and seemed to be spinning her wheels in life. For someone in her shoes, a baby blessing suggests what might have been: what if I had parents there ready to receive me into this world, what if they were prepared to love me like nothing else, what if my life had been infused from the very beginning with the divine, an eternal purpose, a transcendent meaning?

Of course, it is just a blessing and the by next week, I probably won’t remember exactly what I said for Norah or Ruby anymore than I remember Dorothy’s blessing. But there’s a lot the ritual itself can say even as I struggle to find the appropriate words: “Norah, Ruby, we’re here for you–whether you like it or not (and at some point, you won’t like it). We want you to love life, to suck the marrow from the bone, and–hopefully–to become better than we ever were. And we’re here to help make that happen. Try to forgive us.”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. lachelle
    December 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Dallin, that is really thoughtful and quite beautiful. So how did it go down? Did you revert to the traditional checklist or something else?

  2. December 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    I really have no idea what I said up there. I wrote down the night before a couple of things I would have liked to have said: mainly the type of virtues I hoped they would develop, but I really don’t know what came out. Ultimately, I just didn’t want to give each baby the same blessing, and I think I avoided that much.

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