Praying has always seemed strange to me. It’s this elusive, inexplicable thing that I know is necessary, and I feel it doing something when I do it, but I don’t understand why. There are plenty of reasons to do it, and often it’s instinctual anyway; whether it’s a whispered conversation in the dark, or a plea that comes from someplace in the depths of myself that can’t quite be put into words, or something that feels halfway between a leap and a dance when I see something remarkable that holds the fingerprint of God, but it’s still frustrating. I still want to know how it works. Why does God want us to pray? What do my half-mumbled words matter to this being who exists outside of time, who knows all, sees all, can do all, and created all? How does prayer work for this God who is unchanging? How do our requests fit into a God who is sovereign and powerful?
For whatever reason, children seem less confused with the concept of prayer. Perhaps they just don’t feel the need to know why, they just trust.When Jesus told us to “be like little children”, maybe their faith-filled, trusting prayers were part of what he had in mind.
My four-year-old son loves to pray at bedtime—maybe partially to delay the inevitable sleep—and I’ve learned significantly from his bedtime chats with God that I’m privy to hear. Almost the entirety of his prayer is a lengthy list of gratitude, mostly for small things that few of us take the time to notice in a day. He always begins with a litany of thank yous for:
And he always bookends them with, Thank you for dying on the cross for me.
Then he makes his small list of requests, with full confidence in the God he speaks to:
Help me live for you
Help me want to do what’s right
Help mommy have patience
Help daddy work hard for all the sick people and mommies and babies
In his quickly spoken, half-lisped prayers, he beautifully sums up the heart of the Christian life. He recognizes God: the Creator of all things, who is trustworthy and good, the source of all good things, loving and present. My son sees God’s hand in every created thing we enjoy throughout our day: in the Katydid with leaf-like wings that seem too fragile to move, yet they propel it quickly up in the air making it too quick to catch; and in the Oak that turns vibrant yellow at the change of the season and drops acorns on our heads. He remembers as his day ends that he’s held in the hands of the God who gave him the ultimate kindness in his death for us, his costly sacrifice that mended and is mending everything we’ve broken, and he just talks about it with God, in simple words.
Sometimes I sit in awe after I listen to my son pray, and I can’t help a litany of thank yous rising from my own lips. His sweet little voice reminds me too of that gift of life we’ve been given. A blood-stained cross and a yawning, empty tomb sit in the edges of my mind and remind me that because of that moment in human history I can talk to God. Suddenly, I care much less about why it matters, or how it works and instead feel a little dumfounded that I can sit and tell the Creator of the Universe every burden, delight, and desire that rises up within me, and he actually listens and really cares.
So we can speak without eloquence, or perfection, to the perfect, timeless God. We can ask that he would soften us to live for him instead of narrowly living with ourselves as our center. We can ask that he show us what’s right, and to give us the desire and courage to do it, regardless of the cost. We can trust that he can give this worn-out, selfish momma patience and grace for each new day, and he can strengthen the hands of the sleep-deprived Resident Doctor so that he can impact lives, one patient at a time.
It’s miraculous really, how prayer really serves to humble us, bringing us down from the height of pretending we are god, to the recognition of the true God and his rightful place in our hearts, and his outrageous love for us. In light of him, why pray? begins to sound like a silly question, when truly, in light of the reality that we are given the gift of being able to pray, the real question we should be asking is why aren’t we doing this more?
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time—waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God—it changes me.