Teach me to pray
This sonnet by George MacDonald took me back to childhood struggles with public prayer. Especially public prayer in front of my father when we had daily Bible reading and prayer after breakfast. My child’s prayer follows MacDonald’s adult prayer.
Thou who inspirest prayer, then lend’st thine ear;
It, crying with love’s grand respect to hear!
I cannot give myself to thee aright—
With the triumphant uttermost of gift;
That cannot be till I am full of light—
To perfect deed a perfect will must lift: —
Inspire, possess, compel me, first of every might.
Teach me to pray!
George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
Augsburg Fortress Press 1994
You alone can teach me to pray–in any language at all.
I’m a child—a young girl child
Who doesn’t know many fancy words.
I’m nervous about talking to You
Afraid You’ll see straight through the cracks in my walls
Or tell me to go to my room if I can’t stop crying
Or that my clothes are dirty and my heart is dirty too–
Besides, I have a bad attitude toward some people
I think You must love and talk to a lot
Even though I don’t understand why.
I’m not sure whose side You’re really on
Even though You say You’re on my side
And You want me to be happy
So does someone else I don’t trust anymore
My mind believes You won’t hurt me
But I can’t stop trembling in front of You
Stumbling over my choice of words
Afraid I’m nothing but a big failure
A little girl who’s lost in the woods somewhere.
Do You come looking for little lost girls?
What do You do when you find them?
Please tell me right away!
That’s really all I want to know.
I might have an easier time talking to You
If I could just be sure I can trust You.
Can you help me trust You?
I don’t think I can do it by myself.
I’m not sure what else to say
So I guess that’s all for now
In Jesus’ name Amen.
I don’t think MacDonald was writing about public prayer. Nonetheless, that was my first introduction to praying–in the presence of my father, mother and three sisters. I chose my child-words carefully, not going outside the boundaries of ‘good girl prayers.’ It wouldn’t do to raise eyebrows or betray a rebellious spirit.
I didn’t begin to understand prayer until God brought trustworthy allies into my life via a 12-step program. I finally began to get it. All I have to do is show up as I am. I don’t have to impress God, dress up my prayers, or please anyone. In fact, most of the time I could probably listen quietly, smile or even cry from time to time while God lets me know how wonderful it is to see me. No matter what I say or how I say it.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 April 2016
Artwork found on Google from http://www.royaldoors.net
Several years ago I took a course in Wisdom Literature that Tom McDaniel taught, and I’ll never forget how mind-blowing it was to read through the Book of Job, which I’d never done completely before. Job isn’t shy about talking to God and showing his anger and despair. It was so liberating to realize that Job is the model for relationship to God in prayer and everything else–not his sanctimonious friends.
My parents were pretty easy-going in religious matters, but growing up in the Bible Belt, it was impossible not to absorb the kinds of doubts and fears you’re talking about. I still have trouble sometimes trusting God, but I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Thank you, Elouise, for giving voice to worries, doubts, and fears; your blog is a nourishing companion along the way.
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Nancy, Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Your comment about the difference a cultural setting makes is right on target. I also appreciate the connection with the Book of Job. A ‘wise’ lament, made in the form of a demand addressed to God. Not very pretty and brutally honest, especially when Job insists that God answer his inquiry–and when he takes his so-called ‘friends’ to task. Job was indeed a wise man. It’s a pleasure to have you ‘along the way’ with me! 🙂
Your blog reminds me of a family custom, enforced, of course by my father, when I was very young, about 3 or 4. After the evening meal, dad and all 9 of his kids (Margaret, a sister 4 years older than I, was excused because of her mental handicap) would sit around the table and take turns reading from the Bible and discussing its meaning. Then we would get down on our knees and each one in turn would give a prayer. I was excused from the prayer ritual because of my age. As the older kids began leaving home, the ritual was eventually discontinued.
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Thanks for sharing this memory! It does sound like the custom we had, minus the discussion of the meaning of what we read, and getting down on your knees (except you and Margaret), and praying in turn. I also hear where my father got his idea about at least some of this, and wonder whether it would have been different if he’d had any sons along with his four daughters.
Well, I too sat with the rest during bible study, and got down on my knees while others prayed. I’m not sure this practice made much difference in my life.
Your comment brought a smile to my face! 🙂 I’ve always appreciated your direct, honest approach to things. Thanks, Waldo!
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