Every day, Maren says a simple prayer before her meals. She is so used to this tradition that we have to pray at restaurants– even fast food ones. At night, we say the Lord’s Prayer together and then one of us says, “God bless…..” And Maren makes a list of every person she’s ever met in her life, the cows across the street, Ole the Bow-wow (her grandparents’ dog), and sometimes her stuffed animals. On occasion, abstract concepts get a nod as well. She’s been known to ask God to bless sunshine, dancing, and the sky.
This year I actually did something for Lent for the first time ever. I’m friends with lots of people who give things up for Lent, including one dude who typically gives up being Catholic. I’ve never participated, because I’ve never understood it, to be honest. I thought Lent was about making a painful sacrifice, to keep us humble– and I’m not saying that I’m little miss humility, but I could just never think of anything good enough to give up.
This year, I read this great article (sadly I can’t find the link now…) that talked about really digging deep into your relationship with God, and deciding what things were getting in the way of deepening that relationship. If soda, or chocolate, or watching basketball were seriously becoming a hindrance to your spirituality, than those would be good things to ‘give up.’ In my case, however, it’s not distraction type things getting in my way– it’s more things I’m not doing, or things I’ve left undone (holla Lutheran liturgy!).
So one of the things I’m trying to focus on this Lenten season is being a little more open about my faith. I don’t feel like I’m super secretive about it or anything– but I do feel like a bit of a double agent. I’d say a good 90% of my friends are not Christians, and disagree pretty heavily with Christianity in general. So sometimes I’ll find myself just not saying anything when religion comes up– because its easier not to fight about it. To be fair, my GOOD friends know how I feel about Christ and spirituality and would never say something that makes me uncomfortable, and I try to return the favor. But…. I guess lately I’ve been feeling like I’m better at communicating then I give myself credit for. And so maybe what I have to say wouldn’t really make people so uncomfortable. Which I guess is a long-winded explanation for why I am writing about this today.
Maren is so used to praying before meals and at bedtimes that when Mitch is out of town, we have to call him on the phone at bedtime so he can say his prayers with us. Typically, she says a few words of the Lord’s Prayer, and then a big huge AMEN at the end. And then the God blesses, which could take twenty minutes.
When we started praying with her, it was more of a habit-forming deal. Mitch and I are religious, obviously, and– to be quite frank– it’s pretty important to us. We’re the type of people who want to do things genuinely and authentically. We spend a lot of time thinking about our faith, and a lot of time discussing it. It’s one of the things I like best about our marriage.
Even as people who have been Christians for years, there are still topics that are hard for us sometimes. Prayer is one of them.
Here is the thing. I know that a lot of Christians feel like God is up there listening to our prayers and like… I don’t know. Handing out prizes like a genie in a bottle. I don’t think I agree with that particular visual. I do think that God is listening… but I don’t think that when we pray, we are waiting for our lucky sevens to line up so that whatever we asked for comes into our waiting hands.
Some people have had some amazing experiences– myself included– and believe that it is the result of God answering prayers (for example: ask me sometime about how I knew Mitch and I would get married a few days after we met). I don’t want to take away from the idea of miracles, because I’ve seen them happen. On the other side of that, I’ve also seen terrible, horribly sad things happen to people for no good reason. People I love have experienced tragedy. How does prayer fit into that? What can I say– that some people pray more? Or harder? Or BETTER? There is no answer for that. So then, you might say, why pray at all? If it doesn’t AMOUNT to anything, what is the point?
You know…. the older I get, the more comfortable I am getting with not having the answer to everything.
But I think my answer hinges on my own relationship with God. My idea of God the Father is so very similar to an earthly father– our Dads want us to come to them with our problems, even if they can’t fix them. They want to hear about our victories. They want us to tell them what we need— but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to GIVE that to us. I know the kind of father Mitch is– his instinct is to give Maren the skin off his back if it keeps her from experiencing even one moment of pain. But he knows that giving her what she thinks she wants all the time is not always what is best for her.
One of my clearest memories from being a young girl was the first time an adult that was not my parent yelled at me (and I mean really yelled!) and when I went home and told my Dad about it, he hugged me so tight that I can still feel his fingers on my back over twenty years later. He couldn’t change what happened. So he did what he could do. I think that God is like that. One time, I was singing a solo in high school where I had to pretend to be an angel singing to men fighting in the Civil War. I sang one note and then could distinctly hear my Dad starting to cry in the audience, because he could feel what I was feeling, and because he was so proud. I think God is like that, too.
And I remember one time when we were little, and our cat Butch died. My little sister picked up his dead body and carried him into the house to my Dad, and asked him to fix him with his tools. My dad took Butch from her and shook his head. “I’m sorry honey.” He had to tell her. “I can’t fix this.”
I think that God is like that. I don’t think he is up there, keeping tallies so that he can dole out rewards to people who pray more, or to withhold happiness from people who don’t (remember the prodigal son?). But I know…. somehow I just know that he is there. I think that the praying is more for US… not for him.
This idea started to form when I would listen to Maren pray. The reason we added the “God Bless” part of our prayer time was so that she had ownership of her prayers, rather than just repeating/listening to what Mitch and I say. And when I was listening to her prayers, I realized that she’s telling us all her favorite parts of her day. All her sadnesses and jealousies and disappointments are forgotten about, and instead she focuses on the sunshine and dancing and Ole the Bow-wows of her days. And then she lies back on her pillow and sighs.
Maren has no idea that her words are being lifted to a deity. Even if we explained it to her, she wouldn’t understand (or care, probably). But it makes her feel better– you can see it on her face. Just before bed she goes back through all the reasons she has to be happy, and they are most likely the last things she thinks about before she drifts off to sleep.
Whether or not you believe in God…. doesn’t that sound nice?
As a mom, my prayers these days are focused on the health and safety of my family. I can tell you honestly that each night as I drift off to sleep, the last things I think about are my husband’s breathing, my daughter’s smile, my unborn son’s strong and steady heartbeat. And I picture a bearded, flannel shirt wearing old man listening to me, blue eyes twinkling, and either saying, “I’m so sorry, honey,” Or “It’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Or something like that. Because that’s what my Dad would say.
I’m not much of a theologian, as I’m sure you have noticed. My opinions and ideas on religion have been based mostly on my life, and not on learning Greek and researching the original text. I know that praying makes me feel better– whether or not God is actually going to give me that brand new Honda CRV I’ve been asking about for the last few years. For me it’s not really about what God is going to GIVE me… or, put in other terms, how God is going to answer the prayer. For me, praying is more about being mindful of the things I should be happy about, and letting go of the things that I have no control over.
I don’t know if I’ve explained all of this very well. But I guess the point is– I want my prayers to be like Maren’s. Because there are soooo many miracles…. like dancing, and sunshine, and the sky.