“Now, bow your head, and close your eyes,” my parents said as we gathered at the dinner table. This was our evening ritual, saying “grace.” A pause to give thanks before taking the first bite was as common as the meal itself.
And, not just at home. In my growing years, waiting for the blessing at any table was standard practice. Whether a guest with a neighbor, community events and church pot-lucks, we most often expected a pause for giving thanks.
Children are filled with wide-eyed trust. Our little selves look up to the grownups in our lives; our parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches and others.
My dad was a big man – his strong arms often engulfed us kids in tight, secure hugs. We would compete to snuggle up with him as he watched TV or worked on his crochet. He also volunteered as coach for varied youth sports or patiently teach a Sunday School class of fidgety young boys. By watching Dad, I saw his patience whether tutoring me in the skills of holding a crochet hook or playing catch as my brother practiced his pitches. We knew Dad would be there for us and we loved him for that.
Mom enjoyed creating handicrafts as gifts for friends and family. Along with Dad, she volunteered at our school, church and other community events. I have vivid memories of her ironing. An odd memory, perhaps. But, I found something soothing in pressing away wrinkles from a crisp piece of cotton. Mom demonstrated in those early years how to press dad’s handkerchiefs and eventually shirts and other clothing items. The hot steam from the iron gave satisfaction as each crease disappeared. To this day, as I lean over a shirt, or slacks, my thoughts ponder on the wearer. It gives me pause while I pray out the wrinkles.
My parents gave us community in which to grow and learn. The importance of our faith was at the foundation of that community. It would be in our church attendance, influence of other adults and friends where my own quest for prayer would be tended and nurtured.
Believe as a Child
The Bible tells us Jesus loves children. Even then, we get a glimpse of his disciples’ impatience with the little ones. Jesus, in all wisdom, tells them it is children we ought to emulate. Their wide-eyed wonder. Their curiosity. Their confidence to ask questions – any questions. Their lack of inhibition is an example to us grown-ups! How many 4-year-old’s believe they can sing?
Children know and expect they will be fed, clothed and protected. They are dependent and know they need help when limited in skill or experience. Little hands reach up to take ours when crossing the street. Their dependence on adults teaches a fresh dependency on God. If, as adults, we give our all to care for these little ones, won’t God also care for us?
Because of these simple practices at an early age, I understood Jesus loved me. Bible stories and century old hymns were grafted in my young DNA, serving as a life compass for my future.
My childhood prayers turned from the recited, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” to prayers of conversation. On several mornings while walking to school, I had Jesus beside me. We talked all the way. This friendship with Jesus was not the imaginary friend, but a live and very real Person. I believed in Christ’s presence…because the Bible told me so…and I believed, because it was taught, and modeled, from an early age.
In my 60 years, I’ve experienced and seen the shift from closing the eyes and folding of the hands, to thinking ‘good thoughts,’ and even eliminating prayer altogether. “God knows my heart,” is rationalized.
Today, most disbelieve in a personal God altogether. What once was common practice, is no longer modeled. We find ourselves embarrassed to offer grace at any table. A moment-of-silence is offered, rather than verbal words of gratitude to our Provider.
Where do prayers go if there is no belief in God?
The pull from actual prayer affects everyone, whether we acknowledge it or not. Some have no idea what it is to actually pray, to have a friend in Jesus, to experience an intimate conversation with the Son of God.
Others know Christ very well, speaking with him, rather than at him. I love to eavesdrop on these prayers!
It is with perseverance at times, gratitude other times, and great need most times when prayer escapes my lips. Prayer is ongoing. I’m still learning to commune with God, not demand. I experience often his grace, forgiveness and long suffering, not his judgement and condemnation. Most of all, prayer is changing me.
Because it all started from the simplicity of bowing my head, closing my eyes, and saying “grace.”
What is this thing called prayer? I’d love to hear your story.