Like a lot of people, I’ve been praying all my life, especially when times are really rough – “Oh Lord, please don’t let that policeman notice that I was speeding,” prayers, and “Lord let me get through this railroad crossing before the arms come down so I won’t be late AGAIN.”
At Easter, our pastor gave us all books about learning to pray, and told us to read a chapter each week as homework. “Oh boy,” I thought. “Homework!” I felt like I was in high school and I’d have to give up a chunk of fun to read a boring book about something I already do. I pray every night when I go to bed. And when I need all the red lights to be green so I won’t be late AGAIN.
Our pastor is a good, sincere man, though, so I trusted him and decided to at least try the book. I read the first couple of chapters. They weren’t awful. Basically the author said he’d been praying all his life but never really prayed until someone taught him how in high school. In the third chapter he told us about his prayer process – 7 steps. Our pastor talked about his own process, only 5 steps so he can count them on one hand. I couldn’t remember even those 5 steps the first time I sat down to pray, but I did remember either the book or the pastor told us to follow the Our Father. I set the timer on my iPhone for 10 minutes as recommened, got comfortable on the sofa with a cup of tea, and had a visit with God.
“Our Father,” I said out loud-ish. That wasn’t easy to do, even alone in the house. I mostly pray in my head. But saying it out loud made me aware of the word Father, and that made me think of father as a person who brings home the bacon and sets the tone around the house – by that I mean like when my husband would come home from work and I’d tell the kids, “quiet down,” because he would be tired and didn’t like the fighting, hollering and screaming I tolerated most of the day in the chaotic world of a stay-home mom. God as a father– hmmm, that’s interesting. So I started exploring that concept out loud. “You’re a good father, Lord. You take care of us and forgive us all the time even when we do such stupid stuff as teenagers and twenty-somethings. You make rules so we don’t hurt ourselves and others. Like a good father tells his kids not to run out in the street. Not because you want to restrict us, but because you don’t want us to suffer. You tell us not to get drunk. It’s not because you’re trying to keep us from partying and having fun but because you don’t want us to wake up beside some stranger and be commode-kissing sick all night and day.”
I went on talking like this, letting the words flow out, giving myself more examples of a father’s love for his child, and it opened up a whole new world to me. It was one of those “lightbulb-over-the-head” moments. All those Ten Commandment rules aren’t to make us into religious dullards and zombies. They’re rules to make our lives happy. Killing someone is going to make your life and others a tradgedy. Adultery will hurt your spouse, children and lots of others. These are good rules for us and those around us, even when we’d rather not do them. A bad father gives arbitrary commands and is mean so he can feel in control. He doesn’t provide for his children, he’s selfish. He spends his money on booze or gambling, he chases money or women instead of hanging out with his family.
As I was saying these things out loud, the timer on my phone went off. I set it for another 10 minutes and proceeded through the rest of the Our Father. The next part is about praising God, which was quick and easy since I’d already said what a good, generous, merciful father he was. After that it’s about giving us our daily bread, which made me think about how many ways I’m blessed, especially with having plenty to eat. The next part is about forgiving us as we forgive others. Another lightbulb moment. As we forgive others!Yikes, how many times have I held a grudge against someone because they’ve wronged me? If God’s going to forgive me like I’ve forgiven others, I’d better get better at forgiving.
The final line in the prayer is about leading us not into temptation. Man oh man, this world is full of temptation. On Saturday morning I did a volunteer thing and someone brought donuts. I’m trying to lose weight, so a fluffy donut with chocolate icing and sprinkles is a curse. I had to walk past that box all morning long, and at one point I actually said out loud, “Lead us not into temptation,” and I meant it. I didn’t take one, with God’s help. Some things are too hard for human willpower alone.
I’ve been doing the 10-minute-a day-prayer session for about a week now, and I actually look forward to it. It’s a visit with God, like I’d visit a loving father or a good friend – one who knows all my secrets. Sipping tea, talking about my life openly, remembering the bad decisions I’ve made and being thankful that God loves me anyway. Talking about all the ways I’ve been blessed – a warm home, friends, family, children, things to look forward to, being on time for a change.
The book is called, I Heard God Laugh, by Matthew Kelly. A good read. A life-changer, really.