Today we are celebrating the release of May God Bless You and Keep You. We sat down with author Sarah Cunningham to talk about her inspiration behind the book and what she hopes readers will get out of it.
Sarah, what was your inspiration for the book?
Ahhh. That's a tough one. There's no singular inspiration. Instead, I guess I would say that the book was inspired by the thousands of little routine moments in the life of a parent. The many moments when everything in you wants to see your child be and do well. Moments like dropping your child off at kindergarten for the first time. Or cheering for them to get a hit in their first Little League game. Or praying to God that they'll be okay during their first emergency room visit. And it's all the moments in between, when a parent just hopes they'll be able to pass on enough about God and enough about life, that their child will experience peace and purpose, that they'll feel warmth and belonging, that they'll know what it is to feel secure and blessed. My guess is that this type of prayer is one of the most common spoken in a parent's lifetime. It may not necessarily be these exact words, but each parent has their own versions of this prayer that ask God to bless their children. It's what you speak to them as you tuck them into bed; it's what you pray over the children who are part of your community or your church.
What do you hope readers will learn or discover from reading May God Bless You and Keep You?
I hope parents will be inspired to adopt a daily ritual of speaking blessing over their children. Going to a church once a week can be a life-giving faith practice. It was an important part of my own spiritual development. But in my observations, a child's exposure to spiritual principles needs to extend well beyond the sanctuary or the Sunday school classroom. Faith needs to be woven into the habits of the home as well. Here's what I mean by that: In the course of everyday life, we take hundreds of tiny opportunities to reinforce tiny lessons designed to help our children be well. We remind them to eat their vegetables or to brush their teeth. In the same way, we need rituals, reminders, words of blessing that ground them in faith on a daily basis. Speaking blessing over our kids on a daily basis will help them look for God in the world around them. As a parent, if you weave faith principles into everyday life—whether it be through a book like this or just through your everyday comments—you give your child a gift. You help them see God not as a Being they can come into contact with on Sundays, but as a Being who goes with them every day.
What was the hardest part of writing this book? What was the most enjoyable part?
Some books are hard, but this one was easy. As a parent, you naturally build a collection of hopes and prayers for your children. I would pray for my kids to be determined, for example, but then along the way, I'd realize they'll also need to know how to be flexible. I'd pray for them to be strong, but at the same time I'd hope they'll learn to be compassionate even in their strength. Over time, the list of blessings I prayed over my kids grew and grew. The words found in this book are plucked right from those prayers. Every morning, when my kids left for school and every night when I’d tuck them into bed, when I'd go away on a trip or if they'd go to spend the night somewhere else, I'd find myself repeating this blessing again and again: "God bless you and keep you." These are the most powerful words you can speak over a child, because it entrusts them to the care of a Being who can bless and keep them even more than you can . . . even in your absence . . . even when you fall short . . . even when you lack resources. Saying these words reinforces to our children who we look to for our highest blessing and protection.
What sets May God Bless You and Keep You apart from other children’s books?
In May God Bless You and Keep You I try to recapture the lost art of an older generation blessing the younger one. I am drawn to the Jewish tradition of blessing children, for instance, even though my family is not Jewish. Remember the actions of fathers in the Old Testament? People like Isaac and Jacob who put their hands on their children's heads and prayed blessings over their lives? Like this tradition, parents can still play a priestly role in their children's lives and intentionally pass down sacred rituals and blessings to their children. We can use everyday moments like eating or playing or snuggling as opportunities to speak blessings over our kids.
Tell us about your background. Have you always wanted to write children’s books?
I've actually written more adult books than children's books, but as a parent, it's hard not to dabble a little bit in children's lit. You see what's available in the bookstores, and sometimes you see gaps. Sometimes there are no books that capture what you want to read to your children every night. In this case, I wrote a book whose words say the things I want my children to hear every day in our home: May God bless you and keep you, may God's face shine on you today. May God give you grace and keep you safe. May God be with you always.
Click here to learn more about May God Bless You and Keep You.