A few months ago, I shared how my daughter is teaching me to pray again. What I didn’t realize then is that she’s also teaching me how to pray.
Every night, we say bedtime prayers together. Usually—and at her choice—I’m the one who prays. But lately, more and more, she’s been deciding that she wants to pray. This makes me happier than almost anything else she does.
Most of our prayers are nothing out of the ordinary. We pray for all the usual things.
We pray for our friends and our family—the one we were born into and the family we’ve picked up along the way, like Elizabeth and Oliver’s godparents.
We pray for Elizabeth’s day at school.
We pray for our friends serving in India.
We pray for the kids we sponsor in Rwanda, India, and Gaza.
When Elizabeth decides to pray, she’ll ask God to help her classmates be kind to others at school… and at home… and wherever else they might go. Sometimes she’ll pray for the whole world to get along. I kinda like that.
Then she’ll thank God for all her favorite things… her family (especially her “cute little baby brother”), chapstick, ladybugs, and Christmas trees…
After Alan Kurdi and his brother washed up on a Turkish beach, we started praying for Syria, too. We prayed that children and families from Syria would find safe places to live. I knew at some point, this would lead to difficult questions. But I guess I sort of figured that I would be in the role of the teacher…
The other night, Elizabeth decided she wanted to pray for Syria. It went something like this.
“Dear God…” Then she stops. “Dad, what’s that place the people are running away from?”
Me: “You mean Syria?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Why are they running away?”
“Because there’s a war there,” I say, a little worried about what’s coming next.
“What’s a war?”
Now I’m fumbling for an age-appropriate response. “War is when people are fighting very meanly with each other. It’s when they’re destroying people’s homes and doing all sorts of bad stuff.”
Elizabeth starts to pray again: “Dear God, please be with Syria. And please help the kids there learn not to fight…”
I interrupt, hoping God won’t be too mad at me for cutting off a 5-year-old in mid-prayer.
“Actually, Elizabeth, it’s not the kids who are fighting. It’s the grownups.”
Elizabeth looks at me, disbelieving. “What?”
Then she starts praying again: “Dear God, please make the grownups stop fighting because they should know better.”
Yes, Elizabeth, they should.
Sometimes it takes a 5-year-old stating the obvious to make you realize just how badly we’ve lost our way.
To my daughter, it’s simple. You should be kind to people. Not that she’s perfect at it. Far from it. But for her, there’s no complexity. There are no mitigating factors. You should just be kind. Period.
For her, you should take care of the earth because the earth is our home. You should respect people who are different because different isn’t bad; it’s just different.
Christians often talk about sin—or sinful nature—as something we’re born with. We call it “original sin.” I believe there is something to this idea. We are all both victims and culprits of sin in various ways. Inevitably so.
But perhaps the greatest sin of all is losing our childlike ability to see the world in simpler terms as we grow older. You should just be kind to each other because being kind is good. You should take care of the earth because the earth is our home. You should be OK with the fact that people are different because that’s how God made us. You should love each other, because what’s better than love?
My daughter isn’t just teaching me to pray again. She’s teaching me how to pray—and how to look at the world when I’ve opened my eyes again.
Image: Freedom House on Flickr / Public Domain