Everyone has their turn as we go around the dinner table. It’s pretty brief and predictable.
Thank you, God, for our food.
Thank you for our family.
Thank you for our home and our health.
Thank you for no homework tonight.
Thank you that Keith is going to do the dishes. (You can probably guess the source of that one.)
Then it’s my three-year-old, Molly’s turn. She starts by looking up at all of us to make sure we’re ready. Then, she closes her eyes and sings out her heart-felt and sincere prayer. It goes a little something like this:
“ABCDEFG HIJK ELEMENOP QRSTUV WX YandZ …Now I sang my ABC’s, next time won’t you sing with me. Amen.”
Somewhere around E or F we all join in.
Molly’s prayer isn’t because she’s confused about what she’s doing. In fact her prayer is, at times, the most genuine and honest prayer at the table. (Listen to me, God. I know this! I can do it! Isn’t it wonderful?!?)
Sometimes, when it’s my turn, I just say the same old words because my befuddled adult brain is going through the motions. I’m saying grace because that’s what we do and it’s good to teach the kids gratitude and because it’s right to thank God for our food. If I think about it too much it becomes too big. The same God who made the deepest depths of the ocean, is the one I’m thanking for my green beans!?! It’s easier to stick to the script.
But not Molly. She’s sharing her life. She’s sharing the same thing she’s asked to perform for important people like great-grandparents, teachers, and grown-up friends. Every 2-3 year old knows that if you want to impress a grown-up, you give them the alphabet.
Sometimes, at the end of Molly’s prayer, I throw in a, “Thank you, God, for the alphabet.” I do it mostly to stifle the giggles from the 7-and-9-year old, know-it-all siblings at the table. But I also do it to make her prayer fit in and make sense.
God does not need me to do that.
In fact, instead of making it “correct,” I need to learn from the little girl sitting across the table with her precious curls, and self-cut bangs singing her heart out. The alphabet is amazing. It makes the people in her world smile and clap. It’s something to be shared and celebrated with the people who matter … and, most importantly, with God. That is prayer.
Thank you God for her.
Thank you for making those deepest oceans but still caring about a child’s delight in a song. Thank you for the silly and ridiculous in life. Thank you for the moments that take my breath away unexpectedly. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
To Molly, there is no huge distinction between how we should communicate with each other and how we should communicate with God. She is fantastically unbefuddled. She is wonderfully childish.
Something about her prayer always makes me think about praying without ceasing. True confession: The idea of praying without ceasing has always felt overwhelming and confusing to me. I’m always up for multi-tasking but without ceasing? The only things I do without ceasing are things I can’t control or things I can do without thinking about… like my heartbeat or the air going in and out of my lungs.
Like my heartbeat.
God loves Molly. She loves God. Not for a moment does Molly doubt these things. Not for a moment does she question this love or diminish it by her thoughts or actions. She breathes in. God loves her. She breathes out. God is listening.
That’s prayer without ceasing, I guess. It’s so simple, too simple for us adults to always understand. Amen.