After my son was born I had a dilemma: how do I give a baby blessing while knowing that faith is much more complicated now than before? It’s not that I hadn’t given any blessings, or that I hadn’t given any in the recent past. I had given blessings of healing or comfort recently. A baby blessing, for some reason, felt bigger. After all, I knew it was coming for months in advance. The blessing, while it is for an infant, is supposed to contain blessings that will apply to his entire life. The following description of how to give a blessing will be largely based on my own beliefs and experiences. Your own specific situation will greatly control the blessings that you give and what you’re inspired to say.
First we’ll get my beliefs out of the way, so you understand what potential pitfalls I wanted to avoid. I am an agnostic Mormon, which means my life is full of questions. If there is a God, does He have an active hand in the affairs of humans or of the Earth in general? I wouldn’t want to say anything in a blessing that would be foreign to anyone in the congregation, or anything that would make them feel uncomfortable. I wanted to give a blessing that would be powerful and uplifting to my son and one that wouldn’t sound too foreign to long-time Mormons. Did I have to bless him to receive all of his ordinances? If there’s a heaven do you have to be dunked in water after a special prayer to get into it? Do I have to bless him with faith in a simplistic version of Mormonism? If I don’t bless him with those things exactly what is left?
Does God speak to us? What exactly is happening when we give a blessing? Is it just a man speaking words that he tries to make others think come from God? I don’t think in those terms. My goal in giving blessings is to say the words I think that a divine being would say in this situation. It’s a lofty goal. Could I ever reach that goal? Of course not. That’s part of our progress here on earth. We strive to become like God. We strive to become gods. I strive to speak the words that God would speak were he here. I strive to be the person God would want to be here to speak for Him.
There are a couple more small things one can do in preparation for a baby blessing to make it a more uplifting experience. One thing I did was speak with my wife about things that she would want said to our son in a blessing. Her input allowed me to have contributions from both parents. We are, after all, a team, and between the two of us we are more likely to come to an understanding of the most important things to say to our son.
Another thing parents can consider is doing the blessing at home. There is no requirement for doing the blessing in the chapel on Sunday. If you feel more comfortable away from the crowd, and want to do the blessing with only those that are most important to your child, then do it at home. I was in a Sacrament meeting with a very spiritual and kind person who was blessing his daughter. After two or three sentences he froze up. He stuttered a little, said a few more words, and ended it. Maybe that’s all there was to say, I don’t know. But it must be difficult for some people to give such an important blessing in front of a crowd. The handbook is somewhat ambiguous about allowed locations for blessings, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask the bishop if it could be done at home.
One more thing we did to make the baby blessing a more spiritual experience was to record it. My wife used her iPod touch and recorded the blessing and we transcribed it later. This gives us a written record of his blessing that he can read when he’s old enough to understand it. What better way to increase the impact and potential spiritual development of the blessing than to make it available to him whenever he wishes?
I wrote down all of the things that I wanted to say in my son’s blessing before the event. I didn’t have a transcript, and I certainly didn’t read anything. I did have a list of ideas going in, however. I understand that there is some controversy about how much thinking about a blessing beforehand you should do. I don’t think being prepared in any way takes away from listening to the Spirit during a blessing. I didn’t have to say everything I had written down in preparation for the blessing. And it allowed the Spirit to work in me to find what I should say. Our goal here, after all, is to find the Divine words to say.
On to the blessing: I opened with intentionally not saying “the name you should be known on the records of the church.” It’s not necessary to say and I don’t like clichés. Do you have to make pronouncements like in other blessings? You don’t have to. I know one person who used “I hope” when blessing his child. For my blessing I used “I bless…” I don’t think that the word blessing has any guarantees on it. If someone says, “God, bless this house,” nobody thinks that God is now duty bound to do anything against His will. One definition of bless is “to request of God the bestowal of divine favor.”
After the opening of the blessing I spelled out good qualities I hope my son will have in his life. I blessed him with love and charity, compassion, tolerance for others, and to be able to recognize the needs and weaknesses in others to be able to serve them. I blessed him with the ability to unify people of disparate backgrounds to common goals. These were important things for me to include in the blessing. To me, the greatest attributes my son could develop are love and the desire to serve others. And I think Jesus would agree with me (Matt. 25:31-46). As I tried to reach the level of God in the words of my blessing, I blessed him with Godlike attributes. Spencer W. Kimball said that “it is usually through another person that [God] meets our needs.” With this formulation the existence of God isn’t important; we act as God when we serve other people.
I next blessed him with humor and the ability to find laughter in his own life and to be able to help others find it in theirs. This isn’t necessarily a typical thing to pray for, but it was important to me. We can make our blessings unique and personal by paying attention when we prepare and finally when we perform the blessing. Don’t ignore anything just because it sounds odd or different. Next I blessed him with confidence to do what is right and determination to be proactive in his life. I blessed him with intelligence to be able to learn “how the world works and learn of its beauty.” I’m an engineer and science is very important to me. Religion has sometimes been used to reject science. I don’t want that to be a problem for my son. I want him to be inspired by how the world works. What better way to get to know God than to know how His Universe works?
How did I handle belief in God? I blessed him “with wisdom that through the Holy Ghost you’ll be able to learn all of God’s mysteries.” I definitely hope for that. I hope that he will learn the mysteries of God. Does he exist? If he does, how does he act towards us? What is His purpose? What are His goals for me? While many Mormons feel they have these answers, I think we can hope for our children to find the answers to these questions regardless.
How did I handle the question of ordinances in the Church? If our family remains active, he will certainly be baptized and receive other ordinances. Shouldn’t the blessing offer him guidance? “Through this wisdom we bless you to be able to learn the purpose, meaning, and symbolism of the ordinances and rituals of the church as you progress through God’s kingdom.” Whether or not ordinances have any literal “saving power,” they definitely have symbolism and meaning. One of their main purposes is to teach us something through that meaning. The full meaning of the ritual does not have to be known to him at the time that he receives it. But I hope he’ll learn something. And I hope he’ll learn more as he grows older.
I then blessed him with health in his life and finished in the name of Jesus Christ. Is blessing with health cliché? Probably. Is it guaranteed to happen? Certainly not. Is it something I want and hope for my son? Of course. I don’t mind a little over-optimism. It felt right to say it. Maybe it’s what I was supposed to say.
Regardless of your level of belief, a baby blessing can be a moving experience. Being able to bless my son with qualities that I want him to have was wonderful. It’s an opportunity I would not have if I was not a member of the Church, certainly not in such a formal setting. He’s two years old now, and I can see some of those qualities developing already. When he laughs at silly things and picks up things like a sponge I remember the blessing that I gave him. I’ll never forget it.