Have you a conversation with a child lately? It’s great. There is passion over the oddest things. Strange phrases get strung together in precious ways. Subjects change on a whim. If you will take the time to listen, it is a great escape into another world.
Recently as I have had conversations with my children, I have tried to reflect on God listening to me in prayer. While I know I can’t be as cute, it has been a fruitful area of reflection.
At first I had to guard against using this perspective to trivialize my concerns. Protecting myself from viewing my prayers this way actually helped me become a better listener for my children. I realized I was asking God, who is infinitely greater than I am, to show concern to my troubles, which are minute compared to Him.
I needed to become more God-like as I listened to my children – entering their world to show concern based upon their experience more than my evaluation. I didn’t have to agree with their exaggerated emotions to enjoy their excitement or comfort their sorrows.
As I did this, I began to see the value that God gives to the “silly moments” of my life through His concern, understanding, and involvement. I thought about my children having the same experiences and thoughts, but without a father to value those moments afterwards. They would be very different (although exactly the same) moments.
Thinking of my children not having a father to go through the ups and downs of growing up made me intensely sad. I hated the thought – not just selfishly (because I love those moments) but for my boys. The thought of their processing life in silence—fending for meaning with the best concepts an elementary mind could conjure—is viscerally wrong.
But that put my own prayerlessness in a whole new light. I don’t think it’s accurate to sentimentalize God as a desperate parent. God loves me. He doesn’t need me. Yet I saw in my prayerlessness an intentionally isolated child trying to make meaning of life without engaging their Father for help. Why would I do that?
I would do that because I didn’t believe God enjoyed listening to prayer. I thought I needed something important or polished to say. I thought my prayers needed to be balanced. I was thinking of prayer like an adult-to-adult conversation instead of a child-to-Father conversation.
I begin to wonder if part of God asking us to “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17) was because He loves to hear his children “chatter” more than I love to hear mine. Or, maybe it’s because God knows, better than I do with my boys, that when they get silent something is wrong (i.e., broken or sad). My children rarely get in trouble when they’re engaged in conversation with papa.
These reflections also gave me the freedom to pray with greater boldness for things that are really important. It excites me to hear my children say, “Papa, I really want to learn to do [blank]. Will you help me?” When I hear my children call out in pain nothing else matters – we can figure out what happened later, I just want to make sure they’re safe.
I would be offended if one of my children said, “Papa, I was bleeding, but I didn’t want to bother you so I tried to fix it on my own. Now I’m getting dizzy and feel light-headed, would it be too much to get you to help?” Or, “Papa, I wanted to learn to read, but you looked busy so I decided not to ask.” I want those requests to be made boldly.
Ultimately, I realized that prayer makes much more sense when I remember who God is (Father) and how I relate to Him (child). When my identity is right, then prayer is natural. Prayer is always effective. So the “trick” is not to learn “how to pray” but to pray. Hopefully my journey will help you see sweetness of prayer and the eager availability of your Father to engage your world.