Sometimes I need to take my own motherly advice. I tell my kids to eat healthy, and then grab fast food for lunch. I stress how important it is to get plenty of sleep, but I am far from reaching that goal myself. When my son is not listening to me (much like an average 6-year-old) I am frustrated and scold him, yet far too often I do not fully listen to what he says to me!
This happens in my faith life too. I have an example with a long back-story – so stick with me here…
One night last month I took advantage of a night with nothing on the schedule and I took my son to the local gym and activity center. We talked, ran the track, played a game of pool. It was really, really fun. I was overdue for some quality one-on-one time with my son! But we got home late – too late for a little boy who has kindergarten the next day. So he moved fast (with only a few reminders from his dad and I), and was soon cuddled up under his blankets, ready for bed.
I came to join him for prayers. I asked if he could please say a “special” prayer that night. (We say it is a “special” prayer if it is not our normal, rhythmic bedtime or dinner prayer.) So he did. He kept it short and sweet, and then he asked if I was happy that he kept it short. He was thinking I was still in the ‘hurry up and get to bed’ mode, and assumed I wanted a made-up “special” prayer so that it would be faster.
No, no! That was definitely NOT my intention! I did not request a special prayer because I wanted him to get to sleep sooner. I said that sometimes it is nice to say something different just to get out of the rut of saying the exact same words every time. Too often we recite prayers, but are not truly praying – just spitting out some words from memory while our mind is lost elsewhere!
He understood this. He asked what kind of prayers I say – what is the normal prayer that I say which becomes routine? I said my routine prayers are usually with him and his sister, and my own personal, prayers are usually just me talking with God, anywhere, anytime. No real routine. So, he asked me to say my own special prayer – and I did. Nothing lengthy or deep, short and to the point.
When my prayer was finished, he looked right at me, and I could see in those big, dark eyes a sadness. He said to me, “Why are grown-up prayers so much better than kids? Your prayer was so much better than mine.” He didn’t say this in a whiney way. He sounded like he truly believed he had failed to do something as well as he could.
Oh, how this broke my heart! I told him over and over again how God loves the words of anyone who speaks to him, no matter what it sounds like or what words are used, and that he should never stop praying – out loud, in silence, with a large group, or by himself!
And this is where I need to take my own advice.
It is easy for me to tell my child that he should not be afraid to pray. Go ahead, dear son, and pray in front of this large group of people. No need to be afraid! Yet, when that is asked of myself, I AM afraid. Afraid the words won’t come out right; afraid my prayer will not be eloquent; afraid that my petitions will not be worthy to present to God. Yet we KNOW God does not care how perfect our prayer sounds – He just wants us to talk – as often as possible!
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26
To re-tell this story, I had to use the phrase “special prayer” a lot. I’ve reached the conclusion that my family needs a new term to describe our free-form prayers. Defining a prayer as “special” is a poor descriptive word for two somewhat contradicting reasons. First, all prayers (memorized or made up) are special. And second, unplanned prayers spoken from our heart should not be “special” but be an ordinary, normal part of our everyday life. The word special is defined as something better or otherwise different from what is usual – and our prayer life should be anything but.
Prayer should be routine, ordinary – whether we’re alone, with a group, at home, at work, with strangers. That’s one piece of important advice that I must remember to listen to!
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18