LEARNING HOW TO PRAY
I was with a group of primary school children recently and I was asked to say a prayer before the children went off to their activities. In true ‘vicar-fashion’ I began by saying “Let us pray” and instantly twenty heads bowed, hands were put together with index fingers under chins and eyes were closed ... all except one little boy at the back who began looking all around him …. upwards, downwards and side to side.
As I continued with the prayer I could see the teacher nearest to him quietly motioning him to assume the ‘praying position’ whilst the little boy looked a little “discombobulated”. Later on, the teacher relayed the conversation she had had with him at that point. Apparently, on being pulled up for his lack of conformation with the rest of his peers, he whispered to the teacher “but Miss, if I close my eyes then I won’t be able to see God when he comes to listen to the prayer”!!
It struck me then that this little boy probably had a better idea of what it meant to pray than most of the rest of us. After all, he had his eyes open because he really did expect God to turn up to listen. I wonder sometimes whether that is our expectation of God, that He does actually listen to our individual pleas, or whether we just hope our words are heard but daren’t think about it too deeply in case we are seen as lacking faith?
I was pondering this whilst I was on holiday and questioning my own expectations of prayer and the reasoning behind the mechanics of the way I pray. I remember when I was a small child being told to close my eyes and bow my head during the school prayer. I don’t think I had any expectations then although I do remember trying to squint my eyes a little bit to see what everyone else was doing without any of the teachers spotting my non-compliance! I wasn’t brought up in a church-going family but I remember that in my troubled teenage years, I would bunk off school and wile away the time in the countryside addressing my thoughts to ‘someone out there’. I wonder now if the feeling I had that somehow my thoughts were heard was God desperately trying to get me to realise that He was indeed there!
I always felt a draw to my local church, aside from the fact that it was a good place to hide when I was truanting and the weather was too cold to wander the countryside, because it seemed to ooze peace and a sense of belonging I didn’t feel anywhere else. But I also remember that when I eventually started attending a church in my late twenties I
was more concerned with doing things the ‘right’ way and not looking foolish than I was with questioning why I was there in the first place.
Life has obviously moved on considerably for me since those days but I am thankful to that little boy at the school for reminding me how easy it is to allow our misconceptions or preconceptions of God to get in the way of our relationship with Him and how those of us who ‘do church’ can be barriers
to those who are just coming to an awareness of the possibility of God.
I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Whether you are a life-long Christian or someone who isn’t sure whether God is actually there or not,
or anyone in between. How do you pray or, how would you pray if you did? Do you think there is a right way to pray? Do you expect God to be listening or daren’t you ask that question? What helps you to pray and what stops you from praying? What preconceptions or misconceptions about God are you aware that you have or have had?
With love - Ginni