That prayer is weak sauce.

Maybe you’ve prayed it, too —  Dear God, please don’t let my kid become an illiterate hobo.  Please don’t let me kill that woman, not today.  Please let most of the regulars show up this week.  Please don’t let us elect Hitler.

Maybe it started out as a joke — she’d lose her head if it wasn’t attached — and turned into a plea — Dear God, just let her be gainfully employed someday.  Or maybe — well, I’ve successfully ruined everything — Dear God, please don’t let me ruin everything!  After a while it’s not a joke anymore.  After a while it’s a settling.

I found myself last week praying one of those prayers for my children.  A tired prayer, a low expectations prayer.  And as I was muttering the words, I suddenly heard them.  Is this the best God would do for His children?  Can He, would He, not do more?

The problem with weak little prayers is that they are a barometer of the faith speaking them.  Puny prayers pour out of weak faith.  Sad little prayers betray resignation and disbelief, or perhaps a whittled-down God.  Years ago I copied a Eugene Peterson quote into the front of my Bible:

“‘Fears the Lord.’  Reverence might be a better word.  Awe.  The Bible isn’t interested in whether we believe in God or not.  It assumes that everyone more or less does.  What it is interested in is the response we have to Him:  Will we let God be as he is, majestic and holy, vast and wondrous, or will we always be trying to whittle him down to the size of our small minds…?”

Little prayers whittle.  They shrink down our view of God, bit by bit.  We fail to see God as Redeemer — one who redeems, one who transforms, one who picks up the rubble and with it builds a temple.  Asking God to just please not let the worst happen is like asking Michelangelo to please cover up the crude, unfinished block of marble with a nice drape and hide it in the corner.Calacatta-Quarry-Header

It’s not that Jesus taught us to pray entitled prayers, you-owe-me-God prayers.  It’s not “God is a piñata and prayer is the stick,” as one pastor memorably put it.  He’s the one, after all, who gave us “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Humble.  Simple.  Daily bread, not lavish feasts.  Your kingdom come, not my own.

But Jesus’ simple prayer is nevertheless huge.  Imagine if you prayed that way for your strong-willed child, your broken marriage, your floundering career, or your insignificant little church.01dx5075-edit

“My good, good Father, who reigns over everything, who controls every last detail, even your name should amaze me.  Oh, Lord, may your crazy, beautiful, upside-down kingdom come.  May all you set out to do triumph over all that your enemy tries to screw up.  May all that you had in mind when you made me and put me here at this exact moment come to pass — I want what You want for my life, and I believe that Your imagination is bigger and better than mine.  Lord God, You know what I need better than I know it myself — do that.  And help me to be completely, deeply, joyfully satisfied in You.  Give me the power to forgive, to believe the best, to hope all things, to love the way You always, unfailingly love me.”

We named our firstborn Joshua, with a confident prayer that he would be strong and courageous like his namesake.  Now two of our kids are teenagers, and I’m the one with knees knocking.  Now I ask God to make me brave, to give me strong and courageous prayers.  That prayer I prayed last week?  That was weak sauce.  The God of the universe is chiseling a masterpiece.  Get out the camera, folks, it’s going to be amazing.prisoner-atlas

These Are The Days

I read recently of a homeschool family that ran afoul of local authorities.  Someone looked at this little-bit-different, little-bit-strange family, raised their eyebrows, and made a phone call.  Evidently one of the kids had been brought to the hospital and Mom and Dad left the older kids in charge of the small ones.  Child Protective Services came to the rescue, snatched the kids away, farmed them out to foster families, made inquiries.  What kind of education were these kids receiving?  What kind of parenting?

It’s a heebie-jeebies kind of story, a night-terror.  It’s all of our worst fears come alive:  what if they came for my kids?  What if I lost control?  What if someone sat my son down under a bright light and grilled him with division facts, state capitols, parts of speech?  What if they found out how inadequate I am?

There’s not much we want to get right as much as we want to raise our kids brilliantly.  We remember our own childhoods — the homework, the bullies, the stresses, the disappointments.  We want to shield our children from the things that smarted, to give them the opportunities we never had, to launch them laughing and shining into the world.  We watch other families out of the corner of our eyes and we judge.  One family obviously pushes too hard, one clearly never disciplines.  That mom is too uptight, the other one oblivious.  But of all the parents we criticize, we reserve the harshest condemnation for ourselves.  After all, we know the bitter truth:  we are not enough.

217743_1039476143527_9344_n

 

All the while we fret and analyze, the kids are growing.  Our experiments in educational psychology are not bouncing off bright colored blocks, they are soaking into living sponges that absorb it all and swell before our eyes.  My own kids are almost fully saturated now — at 15, 13, 11, they are almost fully who they will be.  Think, Kate, before you speak; we are down to the wire.  The days dwindle, the season draws to an end.  Only a fraction of what I still want to say will soak in, the sponges are starting to drip.

I can’t afford to waste time on the wrong lessons.  The authorities are coming to see if we’ve caught any fish, but I can’t let that distract me.  The lesson we need to work on is how to fish.  It takes longer to teach.  We might still be empty handed when the squad car pulls up.

But if I scoop up the fish and hand the kid a bucketful, how will he ever fish for a lifetime?

Does he know how to diagram a sentence?  Or does he have something beautiful to say?

Does she know her Presidents?  Or does she value history like a treasure store of wisdom?

Has he learned the Periodic Table?  Or is he endlessly fascinated by science?

And more than all of the reading, writing, arithmetic I can teach, there’s theology.  Do they know the 10 Commandments?  Or do they know the love of God?

Can they recite the books of the Bible, or do they long to know who set the world in motion?

The day is coming when they will fall in love, get a job, apply for college.  It will be a day for courage, integrity, determination, responsibility, self-discipline, and love.  Did I mention grace?  Joy?  And of course, the kids’ll need some of those things, too.  🙂

So we pour out.  For all those years, all the great moments and the battles, all the forgiveness and all of the laughter, we pour out.  As fast as God pours in, we pass it on — love upon love.  And then we have to trust.  We have to let go.

Hopefully they won’t come and snatch my children away.  Hopefully I’ll get my full measure of years before the empty nest.  And hopefully my kids will merrily launch into the wide world with aplomb.  But I know there will be regrets, wistful questions, woulda shoulda couldas.  Because (here’s a little secret for you) they are not perfect.  And neither am I.  (SO not perfect.)  Fortunately I have a Father who will keep on pouring into me.  And it turns out He’s not inadequate.  He’s enough.  And that’s enough for all of us.