I've been thinking about this post for a long time. Or maybe putting it off might be more accurate.
Prayer is such a personal thing. And something I have never begun to understand. Other than the above quote, which somehow makes sense to me, I'm not sure what I think about prayer. Which is probably why I've never done bedtime prayers with my kids and little more than the annual Thanksgiving prayer-ish thing of going around and saying what you are thankful for before digging into a meal.
I was taken aback a few months ago when a well-meaning church friend approached me about my youngest son's lack of knowledge about prayer. The other children were shocked, apparently. I didn't worry too much. I already know I'm no supermom and have a somewhat unconventional approach to the whole parenting thing, based in humor, individual choice, respect, and incessant nagging through which I am working out my own insecurities and perceived failures.
Which brings me back to my recent thoughts about prayer. What is it? How are you supposed to do it? Do you ask for stuff and consider your prayers answered if you get what you ordered?
Is it way more complicated than that? Or way simpler? Is it, "Thy will be done"? Is it not being afraid to pray big and having confidence you'll receive the needed (demanded) answer? Is it just being silent and listening? Is it fear in times of desperation? Groaning? Anger? Thanks in times of joy? Awe in moments of overwhelming beauty?
Is it formal or informal? Is it something you set aside time for or something purely spontaneous? All of the above? Or none of it?
And is it any wonder I have no confidence in my ability to impart any sort of wisdom or guidance to my children in this area?
I do it. Often. When I need to be reminded of my place in the world. That I am a tiny speck in the universe, yet God is familiar with every hair on my head and mindful of the fall of the sparrow. When I need to remember that I am not all-knowing or all-powerful. That I am not in charge. When I am overwhelmed by grace. When I am grateful for something simple and small that contains everything that matters. When I am trying to find my way in the dark yet am certain I am not alone. When I need guidance and the strength to act.
Prayer is so very personal. A mystery. I would have no idea how to have that conversation with my kids. I can't reduce it to, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." or "God is great and God is good..." or even the Lord's Prayer or the Hail, Mary that my sweet mom taught to me when I was a little girl.
I think the best I can do is wonder aloud and be open to discussion. Willing to share. Willing to listen. Ponder and reconsider. That's all I've got.
*9/1/2017: came across this quote from Frederick Boechner. Liked it...
Not for the Wise
I AM AFRAID THAT prayer is really not for the wise. The wise avoid it on two bases, at least two. In the first place, if there really is a God who has this power to heal, to make whole, then it is wise to be very cautious indeed because if you go to him for healing, healing may be exactly what you will receive, and are you entirely sure that you want to be healed? By all accounts, after all, the process is not necessarily either quick or easy. And in the meanwhile, things could be a great deal worse. "Lord, take my sin from me—but not yet," Saint Augustine is said to have prayed. It is a wise man who bewares of God bearing gifts. In the second place, the wise look at twentieth-century man—civilized, rational, and at great cost emancipated from the dark superstitions of the past—and suggest that to petition some unseen power for special favors is a very childish procedure indeed.
In a way, "childish" is the very word to describe it. A child has not made up his mind yet about what is and what is not possible. He has no fixed preconceptions about what reality is; and if someone tells him that the mossy place under the lilac bush is a magic place, he may wait until he thinks that no one is watching him, but then he will very probably crawl in under the lilac bush to see for himself. A child also knows how to accept a gift. He does not worry about losing his dignity or becoming indebted if he accepts it. His conscience does not bother him because the gift is free and he has not earned it and therefore really has no right to it. He just takes it, with joy. In fact, if it is something that he wants very much, he may even ask for it. And lastly, a child knows how to trust. It is late at night and very dark and there is the sound of sirens as his father wakes him. He does not explain anything but just takes him by the hand and gets him up, and the child is scared out of his wits and has no idea what is going on, but he takes his father's hand anyway and lets his father lead him wherever he chooses into the darkness.
In honesty you have to admit to a wise man that prayer is not for the wise, not for the prudent, not for the sophisticated. Instead it is for those who recognize that in face of their deepest needs, all their wisdom is quite helpless. It is for those who are willing to persist in doing something that is both childish and crucial.
- Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat