Before we had kids, at the dinner table, Rusty would pray “Thanks, God. Amen.” And then we’d dig in.Rusty’s philosophy about prayers at the dinner table is that you should not pray too long because a) he is hungry; pray fast, b) if you go on too long you are trying to make up for a shortage at other times and c) did he mention that he is hungry and the food is getting cold? And he is right. Our prayer life is rich elsewhere, both together and separate. And the food is getting cold.
But when we had kids big enough to join us at the table before our meals, we switched over to the fairly standard “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” It was fun and sweet to teach Caleb to say it and see the pleasure he took in praying with us. That was the anticipated blessing- teaching my child to pray. The unanticipated blessing came later when Emily was big enough to join us at the table. And watching Caleb teach his sister to pray.
Caleb would say “Pray like this Emmy.” And he would fold his hands up by his face and tell her “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” Then he would coach her as she made her way through it. Her one and a half year old version was to hold her wrists by her eyes, hands flopped forwards and say: “God is, God is, God is, ‘MEN!”
“That’s right Emmy! Good job!” he would cheer her. And Rusty and I would laugh and cheer her on, too. We still laugh about it, and Emmy still loves to hear the story about her first prayers. (She finds herself to be very amusing- I think that comes from my side of the family somewhere.)
The more I thought about her simple sweet prayer, the more I realized that is actually theological genius. Have you ever been so worried that you don’t know what to pray? God is… the Prince of Peace. So wounded that you don’t know how you will ever heal? God is…the Great Physician. So hungry for something that you cannot name? God is… the Bread of Life. So broken hearted that you don’t know how you will go on? God is… our Comfort and our Strength. So guilt ridden that you don’t know how you’ll be forgiven? God is… the Passover Lamb. So lost that you don’t know where to turn? God is… the light of the world.
I once had a friend who was facing a terrible disappointment. She and her husband were in the process of adopting a young boy- a long and arduous process- and in the eleventh hour, it all fell through and they lost him. She was devastated. In talking through it with her, I asked her if she was able to even pray about it. She told me “I am trying, but all my prayers seem to start with ‘Now look here!’” Because sometimes, we just don’t know what to pray. The bible actually tells us that: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)
God is patient and there and listening. Start here: God is… God is… God is… Don’t worry.He’ll fill in the rest.