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A New Book Can Help Parents Learn How to "Let Go"

Author Mary Lou Quinlan shares memories of her mother and the very special box of prayers she sifted through after her mom passed away in her latest book, “The God Box.” This beautiful story is worth a read, no matter religion or gender—it’s a touching, inspirational little book that will be a welcome read for anyone who likes to always be in control (perfect, I dare say, for overextended parents!).

My Mom Had Her Hands Full (or So the Priest Said)

My personal experience with organized religion has been spotty at best, but I have always considered myself a highly spiritual person. Raised Catholic, I was a child philosopher early on: One of my mom’ favorite tales was of third-grade me on the brink of my first holy communion—when given the opportunity to ask any questions of the priest (after reciting the requisite prayers), I promptly and boldly asked, “Why should I believe that God is Catholic just because my parents are Catholic? My friend Jennifer is Jewish, and she believes something different.” I never got an answer that satisfied me—the priest laughed, walked me out to my mother, and told her she had her hands full. I guess she did, in that I was inquisitive and wanted answers. I had a hard time taking things as a matter of faith.

I had a hard time taking things as a matter of faith.

I’ve spent much of my life as a spiritual seeker—studying Kabbalah in college because it intrigued me, learning meditation during high school, getting lost in Joseph Campbell texts after being introduced to him by Bill Moyers’ mainstay PBS series while I was in middle school. I’ve never been drawn back to organized religion, though I do seek solace in my own kind of prayer and reflection, and still consider myself a believer and someone of deep faith. It’s just my own brand of faith. So I approached reading Mary Lou Quinlan’s The God Box tentatively, wary of any religious overtones. But I was quickly drawn in. Quinlan’s story does not set out with a religious agenda—rather it inspires all to follow in the footsteps of her thoughtful, strong mother, Mary Finlayson, who placed private notes to God—on matchbooks, business cards, any scrap of paper she had handy—into a special box. What struck me most was not that she took the time to do so—or even that she generously prayed for the welfare of so many, many people—but that her intention, beyond seeking support from a God in whom she had ultimate faith, was to surrender her worries to a bigger power. By putting them on paper, beseeching help from above, and tucking those personal notes inside her box, Quinlan’s mother was able to let go.


Learning to Let Go

“Mom confessed that when she initiated the ritual, she struggled to forget about her stowed-away cares. ‘At first, it was hard…I had to practice putting them in and letting them go,’” Quinlan, who lives in New York City and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, writes. But eventually it became apparent that the God Box served a healing role for Finlayson, too: Quinlan writes that it played “a lifesaving role for her willing but overburdened heart. Before she started the custom, Mom would keep laboring over people’s problems.”  

Quick Read, Lasting Impact

I read The God Box in just two days over my morning and afternoon subway commute. And while it was a quick read, I have been pondering its many messages for days since. Thoughts spurred by the book spring to me at different times. Trying to fall asleep last night, I thought of my own mother’s prayer list. She often told people she was going to add them to her "prayer list," but I don’t think many realized just what that meant. She had an actual list, on the cardboard back of a spiral notebook, that she had been updating for years. She told me once, “When I add someone to my prayer list, they’re on it forever.” When I discovered that piece of cardboard years later after she died, I saw exactly what she meant—there were names of childhood friends of mine who happened to mention they were having a hard time (we’re talking fifth grade classmates), names of people she used to work with, friends who had since died, even pets. And I knew that she took this slip out every single night and meditated on each person on the list, her own method of prayer, picking up where she left off each night.  

A Gift of Self-Discovery I Hope to Give Myself

I have read a variety of reactions to this book, and so many individuals have vowed to start their own God Box. I am not sure if I will, but there is something that appeals intrinsically to me—the idea of acknowledging that I can’t control every problem (mine and everyone else’s) and surrendering that control to a higher power. Maybe I’ll start my own box, but for now I think I am taking the message less literally and trying to apply Quinlan’s lessons metaphorically to my own life. In the past week I’ve made mental notes to the universe asking for help getting my son into preschool (in NYC, no small feat), encouraging my grandmother to become more confident in getting out and meeting people (at 86!), and for a final sale to come through—dammit!—on my mom’s house. Like Quinlan writes about herself before beginning her own God Box, “I mostly counted on my own self-determined force and never thought to ask for help…as Mom had done.” Anyone who knows me well can attest that that’s one of my biggest problems, too. So here's hoping I can take baby steps on a new path, and learn to let go of the things I can’t control. Thanks, Mary Lou Quinlan, for (hopefully) nudging me directly onto that path.  

The Book Makes a Good Mother's Day Gift Option

The God Box will be in stores in time for Mother's Day. You can read a sample chapter to see if it speaks to you. And I look forward to checking out the forthcoming God Box app, slated to be on iTunes soon—slipping my own prayers and putting positive thoughts out into the world just might be easier if I can do it on the go. For me, perhaps a virtual prayer list may serve as my own little reminder-of-where-I-need-help to-do list. We'll see... Can you see yourself keeping a God Box? What other methods do you personally have for "letting go" of worries? Do share!  

Related reading:

Mother's Day Events to Do with Your Family A Mother-Daughter Weekend Getaway to Concord, Massachusetts Q&A with The God Box author May Lou Quinlan Dealing with Your Own Feelings of Immortality While Raising Kids  

Dawn M. Roode


Dawn M. Roode was formerly editorial director of NYMetroParents, where she launched the award-winning semi-annual magazine Special Parent. She was managing editor at Parenting, BabyTalk, Child, Harper's Bazaar, and Latina magazines. She is a strategic content specialist and currently writes and edits parenting, health, travel, and special needs features for various media outlets. Roode is mom to one son and recently relocated from Brooklyn to the suburbs of New York City. Follow her on Twitter @DawnRoode.

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