When I was a child, I learned to pray from watching my Dad. Dear heavenly Father, thank you for this day, thank you for this food. In Jesus’ name, Amen. That was the standard blessing he offered at supper, nightly, sometimes mumbling it into his beard after a long, exhausting day. He meant every word of it, no matter how routinely identical the words were.
As I matured into adolescent immaturity, I began to notice how he prayed at other times. Our Father, in the name of Jesus we come to you humbly… He prayed sitting in church, standing in Bible studies, hunched over on the edge of my bed. Those prayers were longer, more fleshed out, and much more, shall we say, verbose than the one he offered at supper.
When I finally decided to do something with the life God had given me, I knew I had to fix my prayers. Gone were the …and be with Vicki today…and be with Joe…and give me a job….and be with Ethel… I, too, fleshed out my prayers with a thousand words designed to solidify a public image as a Spiritual Man. After all, if my father (a man of so few words that he likely sealed his wedding vows with a shrug, a nod, and a heavy sigh) could summon up a torrent of vocabulary to express his spiritual concerns, surely that was the standard for which I should strive.
Twenty years of water has flowed by since then, and I’ve altered my view of prayer. As I look back at the verbal diarrhea that accompanied so many of my heaven-ward missives, I realize that brevity was a better friend than loquacity. I could have jettisoned so many useless words without sacrificing the depth of meaning I truly needed to convey. It would have made things so much clearer; not for Him, but for me.
What could I have said instead?
For when I knew the answer, but wanted to couch it in phrases that would allow me to hedge my bets, to give me a needed escape. In my life, I could have avoided weeks of delays by simply agreeing to what I already knew was true.
Father, you know that thing I want?
What is it?
For when I wanted to have the desires of my heart, yet knew not what they should have been. I could have admitted my ignorance, and simply asked Him what I, as His child, really wanted. Instead, I asked for this and that; or worse, I hemmed and hawed and ended up asking for nothing.
Turn your face from me, that I might have rest.
But please don’t ignore me.
For those moments when He was speaking to me and I just couldn’t take another lesson, another reminder of my disobedience or another call to do something difficult. I just wanted Him to stop, yet I knew I could not function in His absence.
You love me, but I don’t.
For those days when I had to admit my disgust with myself and my sins, yet needed to acknowledge that He would never stop loving me. Admitting our own self-loathing without also seeing His eternal grace is a path towards despair.
That makes no sense…but I get it.
For times when His commands flew in the face of every shred of common sense and contradicted every speck of intelligence I could summon. I could have moved onwards, understanding that my path led towards obedience despite the fact that His ways were so inscrutably not my ways.
I’m so useless
So, won’t You please use me?
For those days when I have to set aside my arrogance, my assumptions that I am inherently needed in the Kingdom. I could have seen my co-dependence and yet still begged to be allowed to serve Him as He saw fit.
That hurts. A lot.
But thank you.
For those times when I wanted to learn deep lessons without the attendant difficulty that usually comes with it. I could have faced the hardships that usually teach us so much without losing my gratitude, my thankfulness that He had helped me grow.
What prayers did you miss out on praying?