Thank you for this day. Thank you for Mama and thank you for Daddy and thank you for everybody in the whole wide world. Please help everyone to get all better. And help my owie on my knee to get better, too. And please help Gracie’s cold to get all better.
And . . . um . . .
I love listening to children pray.
“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus says in the Gospels, and when those little ones do come before God in prayer, it’s a beautiful thing.
As I listen to them pray, however, it strikes me that their prayers are often limited by the narrow scope of my prayers. They hear me offering thanks for each day’s little joys and prayers for the specific (often physical) ailments of those around me — Mr. So-and-So’s knee surgery, Mrs. Whatsit’s bout of diverticulitis — and then pattern their own sweet little prayers on mine.
But wait, I want to tell them, don’t copy me! I’m no expert! I’m still learning to pray myself!
“Teach us to pray,” Jesus’ disciples once asked him. And Jesus did. He gave them the beautiful lines we now know as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father.
It’s a good prayer. It’s a big prayer.
I ask God for physical healing from knee surgeries and diverticulitis. Jesus says, “Thy kingdom come,” and asks God to bring the full reality of heaven down to earth.
I thank God for sunsets and fair weather. Jesus says, “Hallowed be thy name,” and with four little words praises his Father for all the glory and holiness that God is.
It is my firm hope that Jesus — not I — will be the one who ultimately teaches my children to pray. His prayer is much, much better than any of mine.
But how I help my children understand everything Jesus’ prayer is, and means, and does? All but the very littlest can rattle it off from memory. But do they know what they’re saying?
Rainer Oberthür must have asked himself the same question. His book Our Father, first published in Germany but now available in English, tries to help children think about and understand the Lord’s Prayer on their own terms.
You ask: What can I say to God when I can’t find the words?
You can pray a prayer that Jesus gave us. . . .
It’s a short prayer, but it carries the feelings and thoughts of the whole world up to heaven.
Oberthür begins with the questions children ask — about who God is; about what prayer is — before going line by line (and even in places word by word) through the Lord’s Prayer, explaining what each part means in child-friendly words and concepts.
Thy kingdom come
Your kingdom starts smaller than a tiny seed
and keeps growing with no limit.
We cannot see it, but we can be part of it.
We can find it anywhere and everywhere —
wherever the sick are healed
and the weak are made strong,
wherever tears are wiped away and people laugh for joy,
wherever goodness and love triumph over hate.
Your kingdom has started already,
and someday it will be fully here.
Oberthür ends his book by paraphrasing the Lord’s Prayer in simple words and encouraging children to do the same.
“You don’t need to use lots of big words to talk to God,” he says. “You can read, say, and hear the prayer of Jesus . . . with shorter, simpler words.”
Throughout this lovely book (made even lovelier by Barbara Nascimbeni‘s illustrations), Oberthür models Jesus’ own way of teaching: take a big idea and put it in small words. Use stories. Use real-life examples. Just because a concept is as big as the sky itself doesn’t mean you need an advanced degree (or even a kindergarten diploma) to talk about it and begin to understand it.
This is how I want to teach my children to pray: as children do, in children’s words, with the humility to ask for bread each day and the boldness to ask for heaven on earth.
I hope I will learn to pray this way, too. Like a child. Like Jesus.
About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.