Teach us to pray
who art in heaven
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory
Forever and ever. Amen.
Almost two years ago, our church has prayed this prayer together every week. For a non-liturgical tradition, this is a very big deal.
There were, and are, those who feel that “reciting” a prayer together is not as important as speaking our own heartfelt words to God. And I can see their point.
I remember being a very young child, not more than 5, and saying grace over our evening meal. I listed a thousand and one things that I was thankful for while my older brother grumbled about being hungry and my mom grinned. When I proudly announced, “Amen!” so that everyone could eat their now-cold dinner, my mom gently begin to teach about prayer. First, she encouraged my thankful heart. Then, she asked me what else I might ever want to say to God. In all my childhood wisdom, I didn’t know what else to say to God.
The prayers at church were long and went directly through the list of people who I didn’t know who were sick with things that I couldn’t pronounce. At home, we prayed to thank God for food and to “please be with us”. In Sunday school, we made long lists of things to thank God for and then someone always asked for God to help their dog get well. I couldn’t see God when I was praying and so I felt a little silly saying more than thank you.
In youth group, the boys squirmed down into their folding chairs to avoid being called on to pray. When they couldn’t escape being chosen, a mumbled two sentence plea often included the phrase, “Guide, guard, and direct”, a favorite of my religious tradition. Our youth minister encouraged us to pray every day using a formula to give us something to talk about.
As a young adult, I heard a preacher explain that all of life was prayer. I got a little nervous at that thought. Did that mean that my commute in rush hour traffic was prayer? I might need to clean up the language a little, then.
As a young mother, a teacher told me that I should pray scripture over my children. I should tell God what I wanted them to become using Bible words. It felt a bit audacious of me to tell God what to do with these creations of His, even if I did use the words He condoned.
I have had a lot of instruction on the topic of prayer. In my 35 years of life, so many people have told me what I should say and how I should say it. Some felt like genuine help. Others felt like attempts to manipulate God into doing what I wanted. I continued to have a hard time talking to God in all of these ways. If God was Omniscient and Omnipresent, God already knew this stuff. And really, who was I to order God around?
I was 31 years old when I was taught that prayer was a two-way conversation. I had spent all of my life filling up prayer with my own words and never learning to stop and listen to what God might have to say. The very first time I sat in silence, God bubbled up in my soul with a lifetime of words to offer back to me. And they were words of comfort, presence, peace, and healing. Since that time, I have found myself with far fewer words of my own to offer God. Instead, I want to listen for God.
Back to the Lord’s prayer. For me, offering the words of another, especially one that I claim to follow, gives me permission to listen.
And that is prayer, too…