I had a great conversation on the phone with my oldest son last night. He was telling me about his two year old learning how to pray. Little Bennett has learned the concept of being thankful. So in his prayers one night as he knelt before his bed with closed eyes and folded hands he said:
"Dear Heavenly Father, thankful for the cow's moo, thankful for the pig's oink, thankful for the donkey's hee-haw, thankful for the duck's quack...." and on and on and on till he listed ever animal he knew. He was utterly sincere. He loves animals. He was truly thankful for their sounds.
Which of course reminded me of my own son's prayers as a little boy. I recalled to him the time when he was in first grade, back when we lived in Phoenix when he prayed: "Dear God, thank you for this day. But next time could you make it not be quite so hot? Cause today my eyeballs about melted and rolled right out of my head! But it was still a good day, so thanks anyway."
There is something incredibly endearing about a child's heartfelt prayers. As we mature we learn what is "appropriate" to say when addressing deity. But little kids can approach God with such trusting innocence to fully express whatever is in their heart.
My son also told me a prayer story I had not been aware of. When we moved to Ohio in 1982 it took us clear across the country from my husband's children from his first marriage. It was a very difficult separation, but one we managed as best as we could. Every single day in our family prayers we included the phrase "please bless the kids in Arizona..." and in our private, individual prayers my beloved and I poured out out hearts with entreaties to the Lord for each of his kids' individual needs.
But to my son who was six years old at the time the reality of WHO we were praying for wasn't very clear. He thought that because we were from Arizona we had a sense of loyalty and concern for ALL THE CHILDREN in Arizona. So whenever we said "please bless the kids in Arizona" he interpreted that in the global sense. In most respects he was fine with that. Except there had been this one girl named Carla in his first grade class who had been rather snotty and mean to him. He did not like Carla one bit. He didn't mind blessing all the other kids in Arizona. But he had not yet learned the concept of praying for one's enemies. He had no intention of blessing Carla too. So every time we said that in our family prayers, silently in his mind he would say "but not Carla, she's mean so don't bless her!"
It was only some time later that he figured out that while we do have a general sense of concern for all people, our family prayers were focused very specifically on my husband's four kids. After that he was far more comfortable giving his full support to the phrase in every family prayer.
In our phone conversation we laughed about this and went on to share more stories of his son's antics and compare them to things I remembered from his own growing up years. But through it all I kept thinking of Carla, and wondering if I hold back any of my own wish for blessings of others based on negative experiences I've had with them.
When I pray for the people I know, am I able to also ask God to bless the person who cut me off in traffic, someone who took credit for my work, or someone who deliberately took advantage of my trust in a dishonest way? Can I honestly ask God to bless and protect those whose behavior or beliefs are totally counter to everything I value? That's not something I've given much thought to before. But perhaps it's something I can work on.
Prayer is an interesting thing. I have had MANY experiences where I have felt my prayers were heard and answered, some in powerfully dramatic ways. Yet I don't even begin to understand the extent to which God may or may not change outcomes or manipulate events based on what we ask for in faithful prayer. Part of me believes I need to use prayer to align my will with whatever God intends rather than asking for specific blessing XYZ. God knows my needs and my desires, so I don't really understand the role my asking for this or that has in the big equation of how the world is run. Yet I ask all the time.
Over at the LDS blog I contribute to, Waters of Mormon, The Baron has started an interesting discussion under the heading of Destiny and Divine Micromanagement that has led to much pondering on whether God has a set plan that will unfold in the world in a pre-established way or if coming events are subject to change depending on what we ask for and how we live our lives.
Whatever the case, I am so pleased my youngest grandchild is learning about being thankful and learning how to pray. Through his example perhaps I can be more sincere in my own expressions of gratitude. And where ever she is, God, please bless Carla. We all need your grace and love.