Four-year-old Mary bows her head and begins to list all the things for which she is thankful. When she began reciting her prayer at mealtime two years earlier, it was a simple, common child’s prayer: “God is great. God is good. Thank you for this food. Amen.”
Her prayer morphed into a litany of all the things that came into her mind – things that are important to a little one rushing toward becoming a five-year-old and the advent of pre-school, time on the playground, and new friends. Her awareness has sharpened as she proclaims a thankful heart for the ants she witnessed earlier in the day crossing the sidewalk in front of our home. Her admiration for God transcends from being thankful for food to a declaration of the happiness she feels in anticipation of eating her mother’s “yummy” chocolate pudding with “pretty” sprinkles of pink, blue and yellow.
The list of those she desires God to bless has grown as well. What once only included Mommy, Daddy, brother Kyle and sisters Amie and Jenny, now begins with a deep breath and a listing of classmates, neighbors, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, her best friend and his puppy, and the older lady she saw the day before in the grocery store who struggled to reach the top shelf for a can of tomato soup. Becoming spiritually aware has also added new dimensions to her prayer as she adds concerns for the far corners of the world where children are hurting, hungry and need to be loved by Jesus. She prays for the pastor, her Sunday school teacher and the missionaries she learned about Wednesday night during Mission Friends.
We teach our children to pray – model prayers – and we dedicate time at meals and before sleep each night to recite the prayers. Our children understand and build on these models guided only by their hearts and a perspective that sees God as boundless. These are hearts untouched by skepticism or tainted by pessimism.
Jesus elevated the child and celebrated a child’s openness and honesty when he placed a child among them and said, “. . .unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
He told those listening that to be great in heaven, they must lower themselves to the position of a child. These adults who grew up, became responsible and self-sufficient now were challenged to be child like: To crawl into the loving arms of God and become fully dependent on His sufficiency, to trust without reservation, and with eyes wide open to leap into the promise of a kingdom unseen, without stone walls and that reigns with blade undrawn, to rest in chaos – content in God alone.
Today, Mary is 23. She is a divinity school student and her life is chaotic. She is a young married woman working a parttime job, going to school, and serving with her husband in church ministry. Prayers are a respite but less carefree than her childhood declarations of joy and faith. Like other adults, she now applies a discipline of thanksgiving.
Beginning prayers with gratitude is the starting place. Despite the circumstances, effective prayer begins with a thankful heart. So, begin by thanking God. Begin with a litany of your blessings.
Hymnist Johnson Oatman penned: “Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly, and you will be singing as the days go by.”
Be thankful for the minute and the monumental. Proclaim His faithfulness in spite of your circumstance. Cast off the burdens that weigh you down and make you ineffective. “Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”
Rediscover the bubbly, unrestrained prayers once uttered. Be thankful, and like a child, welcome the kingdom of heaven into your heart –once again.