“God can handle honesty and prayer begins an honest conversation.”
i was taught two prayers as a child. first, a bedtime prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
i find this prayer a little disturbing so i haven’t passed it on to my girls. the other was a standard blessing said before meals:
God is great, God is good,
let us thank him for our food.
By his hands we all are fed;
give us Lord our daily bread.
i learned the Lord’s prayer indirectly from sundays at church, the way you learn hymns like amazing grace and how great thou art. and my favorite prayer is the apostle’s creed. i love the cadence, the rhythm of it. and i don’t yawn in the middle of it like i do the Lord’s prayer. (this isn’t becuase the Lord’s prayer bores me but because i have yet to figure out when to breathe when i say it.) and the apostle's creed is a succint description of, well, what i believe.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.
the only other thing i can recall as informal prayer education was the book, are you there god, it’s me margaret. this book was a mini bible for me. a lesson that demonstrated prayer as conversation plus a revealing first hand view into puberty that i otherwise would not have received so intimately.
another thing i learned was how to make a wish. a loose eyelash on a finger. close your eyes, make a wish, and blow. on your birthday, candles lit, close your eyes, make a wish. penny in a fountain, make a wish. under a bridge with a train crossing. hand on the roof, close your eyes, make a wish.
as long as i can recall i‘ve felt as if making a wish was indulging. i have a clear memory of riding under a bridge in dc. i was probably 9 or 10 years old. a train crossed over the bridge as we drove under it. i reached up to touch the roof the car. i made a wish,
“i wish for daddy to call me and come visit...”
oh no. i just wished for two things. now neither will come true. i had to learn to choose my words wisely. wish, but wish for one thing only. concentrate. next time.
praying and wishing. why do i connect them in my head? without any formal education on how exactly to pray i felt i had to approach it in the same way i made a wish. with care not to ask for too much, with carefully worded thoughts, and with requests that were spaced out so as not to seem greedy.
and to this day i still struggle to ask for things. from anyone and especially from God. i imagine that if i do ask for something God might be thinking something like,
“really my child ? you sure about that? you want help with losing weight? self-control? you wanna give more to your church? don’t you think you should be asking Me something else? maybe you could word that differently. come on, try harder. why don’t you think about it and get back to me.”
i admire the people who speak frequently with God, who weave Him into their conversations. the ones who speak eloquently on behalf of the rest of us in the room without rambling. the ones who, at the moment i mention the smallest sliver of a worry, offer to keep me in their prayers. i imagine my name being mentioned silently or quietly by these people at dinner tables and bedsides and in prayer circles. i believe that my grandmother prays more than anyone i know. i truly think that she’s praying every moment that we don’t hear her talking.
i asked the other night on facebook if people prayed or wished and what they thought the difference was. interestingly, most people responded by sharing the things for which they prayed and wished. i am thankful for all the thoughtful responses. in general it seems that people wish for the material, the unnecessary, and pray for what they believe to be significant. some pray directly for things while others do not ask for a specific outcome. instead they pray to be shaped, taught, moved, or even led by a certain concern or issue. or they pray for this on behalf of someone else. some do not believe they are worthy of prayer.
these days i still pray before eating. i pray the lord’s prayer, and when we say it in church, the apostle’s creed. after communion i kneel at the altar with my daughters and show them how to pray by speaking aloud what i believe they might want to pray for. i close my eyes during silent prayer but sometimes don’t think of anything to say. i write down the names of people on a yellow card in church that i know need prayer but for whom i don’t believe just my words are sufficient. i secretly want to add my own name to the yellow card. and occasionally, when i feel totally helpless, i pray in the shower.
in any case, i wish now that as a child i’d known it wasn’t necessary to wait for a penny and a fountain, my birthday, or a train to cross the bridge overhead before asking for big things. and it is my prayer that all along God was listening.