If you’ve ever wondered why it’s widely expected that eyes be closed tight during prayer, just listen to the attempts of a three-year-old flouting the rule.
“Thank you Jesus for the food and please keep us safe and thank you for mummy and daddy and… thank you for the window and the rubbish bin and dinosaurs and…”
It’s at about this point that Master Three’s roving eyes meet mine and he finishes with a hurried “amen” and a cheeky grin.
Gotta love him!
Heads bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped aren’t such bad instructions, if a little tight-laced.
To be honest, I can never find my authoritative mummy voice to reprimand our little man at prayer time. He’s talking to God and God deserves our respect, but we forget too often that faith is a relationship of many dimensions, including humour.
The Lord’s Prayer is a particular difficulty for kids and I’ve heard some stellar mispronunciations:
“Our Father who art in heaven, Howard by they name” or “How’d you know my name?”
“Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses…”
“Lead a snot into temptation…” or “Lead us not into Penn Station…”
The most important thing I want my kids to understand about prayer is that there’s no formula.
They don’t need to memorise lines from a prayer book.
They don’t need to be on their knees in a church.
They don’t need to be wearing a certain garment, speaking in Latin, appealing to an intermediary or weeping in contrition.
Prayer is as simple as this: chatting with God. More than anything He wants us to be real, just as we would be to our mum, best friend or spouse.
Whenever we drive past the hospital, we count the ambulances outside Emergency (yep – we know about ramping at the Launceston General Hospital before you read it in the headlines!).
The conversation generally goes like this:
How many ambulances?
One… two… three… FOUR!
Well done! Why are they there?
Because people are sick.
That’s right. And what do we do when people are sick?
Pray for them… “Dear Jesus, help the sick people. Aaaa-men!”
Simple, immediate and relevant.
There’s a section on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15.
Don’t be showy about prayer, is the gist of the first few verses. Don’t do it where you can be seen. And don’t waffle on, using elaborate ‘Christianese’ words.
“For your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” verse eight says.
Like one of those deep conversations with your closest friend, where you’re finishing each other’s sentences and filling pauses with exclamations of “Mmm”, “I know how you feel” and “Oh wow!” My best friend may already know what I’m going to say, she knows me so well, but the act of sharing stories in each other’s company, of listening and waiting binds our friendship tighter.
Prayer is only irrelevant when relegated to the pews of religion.
The dialogue of faith is simple, immediate, intimate and oh-so relevant to the very thing foremost in your mind right now. Yes, even THAT – however insignificant you feel your issues to be.
Prayer acknowledges a greater order; that we see only a fragment of the picture. It claims peace and hope in every circumstance.
Like a daughter sharing with her mum. Like a husband asking forgiveness of his wife. Like a friend consulting another friend.
Prayer is the most normal thing in the world.
It should be anyway.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 6, 2014.