“Mommy, last year my tummy was hurting.”
My sweet little boy had no idea how to express was he really wanted to tell me. But, being the mommy that I am, I didn’t need him to know how to say what he needed to say. I just needed to ask a few questions, get a few more details, and then respond accordingly.
“Sweetie, last year was a long time ago. Can you tell me another way when your tummy was hurting?”
“When we were going to bed.”
After those few short sentences I knew that
Steven had not felt well when he went to bed last night.
His tummy was bothering him due to a combination of factors, probably sinus drainage and being up and active late, as is typical for church nights but not “regular” nights.
What he really needed was for me to know that he had felt bed so that I would know to ask him how he felt this morning.
Steven had no idea how to truly communicate what it was he needed. But, in a few short sentences I was able to glean exactly what he meant – and what he needed. In this particular instance, he just needed to communicate something to me. Other times he hungers to tell me a story. Still other times he wants or needs something and comes with a question or request. Although he has a wide vocabulary and a solid mastery of sentence structure, there are still many things about communication that he just has not yet mastered. Because of this, when he approaches me his meaning often is not clear. But, I know him. I know his heart. I know how his mind works. And, I know his pattern of behavior. All of that means that I also know his meaning.
Now apply this to our prayers. We are convinced that prayer has to follow a certain pattern. We think we have to know exactly how to work the formula to get through to God and have our prayers answered. We think like adults. After all, when we want to communicate something or put in some form of request in this world, clear articulation is essential. We have to know what we are saying and say it perfectly or run the risk of not being understood.
But God does not say that we should come to him as adults trying to communicate as adults do in this world. He says we are to come to Him as children. Children don’t know how to say what they need to say. So, they do the best they can based on their understanding, even if it means referring to last night as last year. Their parents fill in the gaps based on their greater understanding and are able to meet the needs of their children.
How much more true is that of God! We have no idea how to truly express ourselves properly in prayer. But we don’t have to! All we have to do is come before Him and say what we know to say however we know to say it. He looks at our hearts and fully understands our words based on His infinite understanding, not on our limited words.
May we put aside our attempts to pray “just right” and learn to follow the example of a small child. As we do so, may we discover a Father who understands every word we speak – and every cry of our hearts – even better than we understand them ourselves.