It started small. Maybe all our spiritual practices do.
I’d bless my kids’ foreheads before bed, tracing a thin line with my thumb across their brows sweaty with curls. After books and prayers, before songs and kisses, I’d sign them with crosses – a mama’s bedtime blessing.
Then I noticed we started blessing each other. Once when I lost my temper and was asking forgiveness of the 5 year-old, he reached over and brushed aside my hair to push a clumsy cross onto my forehead with his marker-stained thumb. “I bless you, Mommy,” he said, scampering off to play.
Sometimes at dinner if our stubborn-sweet 3 year-old refused to say grace with us, I’d lean over and ask if I could just bless him instead. Even with his brow furrowed and his small chin stuck out in defiance, he’d let me touch his head. We both softened to share the meal in peace.
When the new baby joined us and everyone had to jostle for a few months to renegotiate their space and place in our family, it was our practice of signing tiny crosses that sealed the deal.
One afternoon I relented to the constant pleas of “can I hold the baby?” and told the big boys to climb up on the couch to cradle their brother in their laps. As they gazed down at him in adoration, our oldest son reached over and carefully traced a small cross on the baby’s head. In a gentle sing-song voice, he said softly, “I bless you for God!”
Breath held, I watched this blessing of touch, unprompted and pure. One of those rare and holy moments of parenting.
So often I confuse our practice of faith with excellence in faith. If this family is going to follow Christ, then we’re going to do daily prayer and weekly catechesis and church attendance and Scripture study. We need to do it all and we need to do it right, or else everything fails.
But maybe it’s not about getting all the big things right. Maybe it’s about getting all the small things right.
As a parent, all I can hope to do is trace tiny crosses on my children’s foreheads. Sweep aside their messy hair, wipe off the sweaty smudges, and bless their brows with the smallest sign of the One who calls and claims them for love.
All I can do is offer these traces of faith, over and over again, hoping the thin lines trailed by my faltering fingers will leave some imprint on their lives. Trusting that any efforts I make, any small crosses I try to trace on my children’s hearts, are already swept up in the embrace of the God of Love, in whom we live and move and have our being.
So I’ll bless them again tonight. And again tomorrow, and the next, and all the nights after – until the night when they turn their heads away and tell me no, they’re too old for that now.
That night I will close another chapter as I close their bedroom door behind me. But still I will carry the same prayer with me: that they will know Christ’s love and that it will change their hearts all life long.
One tiny cross at a time.