teach us to pray

Prayer is hard.

For years I have tried to teach it to my children while learning myself. From my oldest daughter asking me to pray for the boy that will bring her ring to my youngest son asking me to pray for his spots. (His sensitive skin has given us all kinds of fun fits.)

I pray as I put them to bed and find friction, fidget, and frazzled nerves interrupting. Though they seem to desire this time I have yet to discern whether it’s for my physical presence or God’s Presence. Many times I mentally sigh and behave as though I’m checking off a to-do list instead of treating it what it is—entering the court of creation’s King, standing in the throne room with my child alongside.

Currently my youngest fidgets much, not unlike me. I’ve found him with matchbox cars in hand, hiding under covers, even rising to look for another plaything before we’ve signed off. In moments of frustration, I scold and cajole and finish abruptly, not fully comprehending my need to be attentive is even greater than his. It is a need to be fully present, with my child, in His Presence.

I try to engage him to pray time and again; he tells me he can’t. “Mom, I don’t know how.” He has a list of required requests, for his “spots” and my mouth and back. My next youngest girl joins and comes alongside us frequently. She will eagerly pray, remembering every name, every request.

As months go by, I recognize a pattern in bedtime prayers. I think so much, trying to pray to teach him, them. I try sticking to formulas that involve thanksgiving, adoration, petition. I recall gratitude, not anxiety and Philippians 4: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We plow ahead.

We’ve developed a list of names and as my daughter takes her turn one night, I hear a speed and rhythm that makes me ache—sad, even. Her words are kind, heart sincere, but I can’t help thinking she’s begun to mimic my transactional, to-do-at-bedtime tone. I tell her we have time. There is no rush.

The failure seems to overwhelm the success. The lack looms large. Over and again I try to coax my little man to pray. Though he will on occasion contribute a line or two, he insists on my prayer, his requests. His skin. My back. Names of those in need. He is four and play overshadows prayer. Interruption supersedes intercession.

I thank God for him. He’s doing the best he can. I am 43 and no different.

For years I have looked to establish my own true prayer time. Rise early, interrupted by early morning bus riders. Rise earlier, fall asleep. This isn’t devotion! I’m embarrassed by the struggle.

As always, the Word of God reminds me I am not alone.

Jesus, while preparing for the imminent cross, is sorrowful, deeply troubled and He pleads with his men to pray for Him, with Him:

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:40-46

In some ways I am all the more sad. The Savior pleads to no avail and then faces it all for us, all alone. And yet this is why He faces it, not us. The flesh is weak and we need flesh made strong.

Some days prayer comes after school aged kids have gone and youngest settles in for Spongebob. I sneak to my room and wrestle to avoid that to-do speed prayer of familiarity. I wrestle to avoid that weak, tired flesh. I want to listen. I want to speak out of His word to the Word. I can’t be doing this right. How does my mind get to groceries (matchbox cars) while in the throne room? Can’t I devote a single inch of me?

Daytime prayer means discovery, disruption by the little man looking for mom. I tell him I’m praying and he will bow his head for a few seconds and then make a request. Spots. Back. Back to play. Sweet, I think. I love that he at least tries.

Then I am floored as I consider, is it possible? That my God loves my effort, as feeble as this? He accepts fidgeting prayers? That He enjoys my fellowship. Lifted, encouraged, I wrestle on.

Nowadays my youngest has learned whatever the ache, physical or otherwise, just ask God. Walking home from picking up sister he says, “my body hurts.” He stops on the side of the road, closes eyes, awaits prayer. I love that he looks to prayer, even if he isn’t willing to do the praying. I think this must be a small victory, even if I almost don’t ask anymore if he would like to pray.

This night, as we undertake the routine, he preempts me.

“Mom, I want to pray.”

I am thrilled, excited to finally be privy to his prayer, in his own words. I worry and then decide I will encourage no matter the outcome, the structure, the pace, the list of requests. He looks to me nervous, unsure. I reassure.

I am humbled as he prays.

Thank you God for my spots.
Thank you God for my mom’s mouth and back.
Thank you for Dad, Macy, Emma, Seth, Noah.
Thank you for sending Jesus to rescue us.
Amen.

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