The dreaded list was up. Every week, some kid in the Sunday school had to get up in front of the entire Sunday school and present a prayer before the Sunday school began each session.
The list went alphabetically. My closest friend went before me. He got up and was so nervous that his prayer took about five minutes and he read it like my favourite cartoon character, Porky Pig. My face showed empathy, but inside I was chortling at his presentation.
Weeks passed. Oh, oh. I was next. I rushed to my Mom and asked if she could help me by writing a prayer for me to read. No such luck. She said, “You know how to pray. You pray at mealtime and when you go to bed, at night. Do it like those.”
Well, I couldn’t just use the grace we always said because we never ate anything during Sunday school. That wouldn’t make any sense. The prayer I said before I went to sleep might apply since most people fell asleep during church! Nothing seemed to fit.
Panicked, I went back to my Mom. “Mom, I’m totally lost on this prayer thing. Help me?” She smiled and asked what the problem was. “I don’t know the prayer formulas, the words that preachers use when they pray in church.” My Mom looked at my distraught face and said very quietly, “Doug, prayer is like talking with a good friend. Use simply words. Use words from your heart. You don’t need anything fancy or complicated. Just be you.” Just be me.
That didn’t help, but I did take her other advice. The day arrived and I got up trying to look cool and yet hiding my knees that seemed to be going north and south at the same time and I prayed like I was talking with my best friend. I had written the prayer out and when I was finished shoved it into my pocket. In Church, the next week, the Minister presented a piece of paper that he found on the floor the previous week and read out a child’s prayer that was written on it. He told all the adults that this was the best prayer he had ever read. It was mine. Mom smiled at me, but no one else knew.
How often do you pray? The Scriptures tell us that Jesus regularly went up onto a mountainside to pray. He found a secluded place where he could open his heart and converse with God. In fact, the moments were so intimate, that he called God, Abba which means Daddy.
Are we that intimate with God? How regular are we at prayer? I remember, as a kid, seeing my Dad go to his knees by his bed, bury his face in his hands, and pray. He did this every night. I once asked him what he prayed for. He told me he prayed prayers of thanksgiving for everything and everyone in his life, he prayed for those who don’t pray and for God to reveal to him someone who needed his help and he always told me that when he finished, he felt a calm pouring over him and sleep then, came easily.
I no longer write prayers when I lead worship. I pray simple prayers from my heart and when I do, I find a quiet, intimate moment envelop me. I am speaking with my friend, the one who created me and sustains me and challenges me, everyday. Pray always and know God. Speak with your best friend and may God bless you all.
Doug Pilsworth is a retired United Church minister.