Praying Pains

Back-in-the-day: Dad & Nicole
Back-in-the-day: Dad & Nicole

It was my dad who taught me to pray. When I was little, Dad and I would kneel beside my bed and pray together, Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. God bless, Mommie, Daddy, Phillip, (the twins, when they came along), Grandma, Auntie, Benji (my pet rabbit), Spot (my dog), and a host of other animals and things on my child’s mind. I remember feeling like such a big girl when Dad taught me the Lord’s Prayer.

When I became a teenager, prayer became something I did at church or with my family. Occasionally, I would pray on my own—when I needed something from God. I did not find much meaning in prayer, although my parents modeled a lifestyle of prayer for me.

As a young adult, prayer confused me: How to pray? Does God really hear me? Why should I pray if God knows what is on my mind anyway? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? At times, prayer made me angry. Why pray, when God doesn’t listen—or even worse, doesn’t care?

In my early 30’s, I went through some bad relationships and some awful break-ups. I was angry. Was I doomed to have a broken-heart? Why didn’t God do something? Didn’t he care? I was annoyed with well-meaning people who tried to make me feel better with comments, such as: God knows what is best for you. Don’t worry, God has the perfect man for you at the perfect time. Maybe God wants you to focus on him right now. Make God the center of your life.

Those comments seem to discount my pain. I was hurting. Where was God in the midst of my pain? Then over the years, three people said some simple things that caught my attention:

Robin, my friend and former boss, assured me that God feels my pain and cries with me. God, my Creator and God, feels my pain and cries with me too? He is present in my pain? Wow. Now this is something to which I can relate, something onto which I can latch.

Fr. Leigh, my rector, said in one of his sermons that God was not despondent to our pain. Seriously, I thought—is that true? God truly cares about my pain? He emphasizes with me?

My friend Agatha once said in a passing conversation (I think with someone else, not me) that she prays to God and expects him to respond—why not? It was like I heard her comment in my mind, saying, Duh. If I pray, why wouldn’t I expect God to answer? She wasn’t saying that God would answer our prayers always with an affirmative but that God would answer our prayers, that we would always get a response. (My mom used to tell me this, but I never listened her. It took a person from outside the family to get this truth across to me.)

Now I am on the other side of young adulthood. Prayer is still a mystery to me. I still don’t get it or fully understand it, but it has become an integral part of who I am. I thank my dad for teaching me how to pray, my parents for modeling prayer for me, and my friends and priest for revealing some important elements of prayer to me.

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Reading Time

I can’t remember my life without books. Reading has always been a huge part of me, and I have my dad to thank for that. When I was little, Dad always read to me. Even though I had books of my own, he would take me to the library each week so that I could pick out new books and get used to the smells, stacks and system of the library. I loved our weekly adventure.

Poky PuppyBefore reading a storybook to me, Dad would read me a Bible story. I didn’t like them that much. I found the stories boring, but I would bide my time so that we could get on to the old lady with the house full of rabbits, to The Poky Little Puppy, to Danny the Dinosaur, or to any of the Richard Scary stories. I was patient back then.

But there is one Bible story that I vividly remember; it was about the four friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing (Mark 2:1–12). I remember the blue-striped robe Jesus was wearing, the smile on his face, the four friends digging through the thatched roof to get to Jesus, and the happy faces of all the friends, especially of the one who was healed.

I don’t really know why this story touched me or why I remember it so well. I think in my child’s mind, it was the first time I had an idea of who this Jesus was—he was a happy and caring man. I could go to him; I could take my friends to him. I liked the friends who were so determined and the digging through the roof. This story has always made me happy, and it still does today. Thanks, Dad.

Childhood Reflections

Over the past two months, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my early life. During Lent, I spoke at my church on the discipleship of children. It was my first such talk on this topic, and I drew a lot from my personal experience as a child.

Palm Sunday: Church of the Good Shepherd
Palm Sunday: Church of the Good Shepherd

When I first moved to South Africa, my role at Growing the Church was to be the youth coordinator, but it quickly evolved into doing children’s ministry as well, as I ultimately became responsible for Rooted in Jesus Junior (a small-group discipleship course for children) in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Over the past two years, this has reshaped my attitude towards children and ministry to them.

I am by no means an expert in this area, and I believe that the church in both my countries has fallen short in the discipleship of children. But in reality, discipleship begins at home. I believe that the church should play a secondary role in a child’s faith formation, reinforcing and building upon what a child is already learning at home about God and about living life as a follower of Christ.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to blog about some of my faith experiences as a child and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I think this will help me to process my reflections and, hopefully, will inspire readers along the way.

Mr. Sam Hannah

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Tanzania, I had to prepare a sermon. I’ll be preaching at a parish church while I’m there. Preaching is definitely not my gifting; and I’m slightly nervous about the whole thing, but I know with God’s help it will be fine.

My sermon centers around the New Testament reading for that Sunday, which is 1 John 4:7-21 (the famous passage about how loving God and our neighbour goes hand-in-hand), and the issue of children’s spiritual formation. I’ll be traveling to Tanzania to be trained in Rooted in Jesus Junior, and thinking about children’s faith formation made me reflect deeply on my own spiritual formation as a child. I was reminded of the Sunday school teacher I had as a child, and I talk about him in my sermon. Below is the clip, and it is dedicated to my Sunday school teacher, Mr. Sam Hannah, and to all Sunday school teachers for children. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

8-or-9-year old me. Age I would have been in Mr. Hannah's Sunday school class.
8-or-9-year old me. Age I would have been in Mr. Hannah’s Sunday school class.

“I want to tell you a story about myself. When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher was a man named Sam Hannah. Mr. Hannah was an elder in the church and community. He was kind-hearted and was like a grandfather to me and the other children. He prayed with us and listened to us. He would laugh with us, and I remember his lovely laugh. He was such a joyful man. Many times after church, he would buy cool drinks and candy for us kids. Mr. Hannah died several years ago, but I still remember him. I don’t remember a single Sunday school lesson he taught us, but I remember that he loved us, that he loved me. Through Mr. Hannah’s words and deeds, I knew that I was special to God and that God loved me. Through Mr. Hannah’s love, I experienced the love of God; and I have never forgotten that.

When your children grow up, they may not remember a single lesson you taught them about the faith, but they will always remember the way you loved them. Your love for them will be etched on their hearts and minds as a manifestation of God’s love for them. God is love; and if we love God, we love others, says the writer of 1 John. If we love God, we love our friends, enemies, people in our community, strangers, elders, children. 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” If we love one another, God’s love is manifested among us.

In closing, I want to challenge you and me to love God more by loving our neighbour more. I especially want to challenge us to be more intentional about loving our children, teaching and equipping them to have a personal relationship with Christ now. Our children are not just our future; they are our present. As we love and welcome children in the name of Jesus, we welcome our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Before I became an adult or a teenager, before I knew where my life was going or what God was calling me to do or whom he was calling me to be, Mr. Sam Hannah was playing a role of ubuntu in my life. I am who am partly because of this wonderful man.