When I was growing up, we always had dinner as a family (at the table even!) and we always said a blessing over our food before we ate. Our parents wanted my brother and I to be comfortable praying aloud, so we would take turns every night saying the blessing. They also encouraged us to pray our own words instead of just saying “rote” prayers.
The only problem was when my brother, Keith, was about 4 years old. We almost dreaded the nights when it was his turn to pray, because we knew we might never get to eat.
“And God, thank you for my Mama, and my Daddy, and Granny and Grandaddy, and my teacher. And I had a really fun day today, I caught a caterpillar. Thank you for caterpillars, they’re fuzzy. And thank you for my fork and my spoon. And please let Mama let me use a knife, ‘cause Michelle gets to use a knife, and I want to use a knife. And thank you for my baseball. I hit it into the street today, and the truck almost ran over it…”
Invariably the one thing he did not pray for was the food. He somehow always forgot that in his long talk with God.
Because that is what prayer is; talking with one’s God.
As adults we often get caught up in the words we are praying. We use catch phrases and big words that are impressive sounding, but we forget to pray from our heart and say what we are really feeling. We hide behind rote prayers. We also get caught up in impressing others with how good we can pray.
There is nothing wrong with praying out loud in front of other people. The problem comes when the prayer winds up not being directed at your God, but is instead calculated to impress those around you. If during your entire prayer you are thinking ,”Did that sound OK?” – then you are praying for the wrong person.
Little children are taught rote prayers in order for them to get used to praying, to get the idea of talking to somebody that is not right there. (Considering how many kids have imaginary friends – this might not even be necessary!) But is also gives them the idea of what to pray for; giving thanks, asking for protection, asking for forgiveness, giving praise. They do not, however, need to say these prayer “models” forever. As they grow, give them the chance to use their own words to talk to their God.
My youngest son is 5, and not shy at all. At our last big family gathering for the 4th of July when the family gathered for the meal’s blessing, he piped up and said ,”Can I say it?” I was so proud!
Then I remembered why we never let Keith have the blessing at the family holidays.
“Dear God, thank you for the hot dogs, and the ice cweam, and the watermewon. And did you see me swimming?! And bwess everybody. And thank you for the forks and the spoons and the pwates…”
Oh well, at least he did bless the food first.