Keep it simple

Wednesday night I watched my granddaughter praying.

I had dropped off some cookies at my son and daughter-in-law’s new apartment, something I could never do when, until two weeks ago, they lived 500 miles away. When I arrived that evening, they were  putting my 17-month-old granddaughter to bed.  Good timing on my part, I would say.  Soon the little one was hugging me tight as we rocked in the chair in her room, keeping the beat as I sang through a long list of songs, lullabies and a hymn or two.   She was very still for a very long time.

Sure that she was asleep, I laid her down in her crib.  Immediately her eyes popped open wide with a betrayed look, and for a minute she did not move, just looked around with her concentrating frown at what was still a strange new room.

Suddenly the arms reached out.  When that had no effect on me, since I was trying to be the responsible adult saying it was time to sleep, she then demonstratively sat up.  And when that did not accomplish what she needed from her grammom, she started to whimper with displeasure.  Now this toddler has no concept of God yet, but she has already learned the first lesson of prayer: trust the one to whom we pray.  She, more than I, trusted that the one who loved her would not leave her alone in a strange dark place.

What’s a grammom to do?

What’s God to do for that matter?

Lord, teach us to pray, said Jesus’ disciples one day.  They had heard that John the Baptist’s followers had received a workshop on prayer from their teacher and now Jesus’ disciples wanted to hear Jesus’ version. They certainly knew Jesus went off to pray a lot.  How did he pray?

So Jesus told his followers something quite unique: to pray to Abba.  Papa.  Not Creator-of-the-Universe.  Not Ruler of-all-nations.  But to Abba—our good and dear parent.  Father.  The heart of Jesus’ prayer is an intimate, trusting, close relationship—like a child in the arms of a loving parent.  In prayer we are children, and in prayer our Abba is not going to leave us alone in a strange dark place.  Prayer is trusting talk (sometimes wordless) with our Abba.

The second thing I notice about Jesus’ teaching on prayer is that he kept it simple. (Luke 11:1-4) Hear the simplicity of Jesus’ petitions: Give us bread today.  Forgive us as we forgive.  Save us in hard times.  He said it simply.  There is nothing hard or involved about his prayer.  It is as simple, really, as one of us wordlessly reaching up one’s arms to the trusted One.

Why do we pastors seem to make prayer much more complicated and fancy?  Ecclesiastically verbose, if you will.  And why do those of us sitting in the pews or chairs think our prayers are not good enough to pray out loud?

Lord, teach us to pray, queried the disciples.

Are my prayers more complex than necessary?  Probably.  While at times I have been told my praying is comforting and people are grateful, maybe it is more about the fact I am praying than what I say in those prayers.  Have in the end my prayers also been intimidating?  Do people in the congregation prefer me to pray rather than risk their own words in comparison?  If for my part I have unwittingly led the congregation to think that prayer, particularly community prayer, takes special training, I have not been a good teacher.

Last Wednesday, standing beside a crib, I was not asking:  Lord,teach me to pray.  But suddenly he was inviting:  Elaine, how would you like me to teach you something about prayer since you are intending to preach on Sunday.  This has been his crib-side teaching: That simply raising my arms to Abba is quite enough.  That the Lord receives my simple wordless plea with his arms open wide as well.


  1. So…. how did God’s deputy aka Grammom answer the prayer?

  2. LOL. With mercy and grace, of course, wrapping arms around her and carrying out into the lighted living room to join the laughter of the family 🙂