You know what they say about assumptions? When you make them, you’re making an @$$ of you and me? You know who most loves to mess with our assumptions? God.
So there’s a little dude in my children’s worship group, let’s call him Calvin, in homage to Calvin & Hobbes. Those of you familiar with the comic strip will have a good idea of Calvin’s general demeanor. If you don’t know the strip, Calvin is a 1st or 2nd grader who doesn’t follow behavior rules, has a gory imagination (which he uses often), and neither his feet nor his mouth are able to stay still for long. He doesn’t have the disdainful eyes of a kid who doesn’t recognize authority, he’s just got an excess of … everything (especially liveliness and mischievousness). I really like my young Calvin, but it’s work to keep him reined in so everyone can pay attention to the story. And so that wrestling doesn’t break out, which is not a choice in children’s worship.
Except once. Last year, in an activity before I told the story of David and Goliath, I had my preschool group try to defeat the giant (my 6-foot-tall teenage helper) by trying to push him down with their own strength. They couldn’t. Of course. But I digress.
This past Sunday was a pretty typical day for Calvin. I did have to break up wrestling once. The story was a little more conceptual, so I didn’t have to repeatedly remind him not to tell the story overtop of me, which was a nice change. Towards the end of our time together, we did some intercessory prayer. I took prayer requests (there were a lot of loose teeth, which I asked to see, because the kids were so proud of them, but which also made me a little queasy). And then a little girl said she wanted to pray.
I got everyone settled down, and then she whispered, “I don’t know how.”
To demonstrate that praying wasn’t a big deal, I shrugged. “Just use the same words you would to talk to anyone.”
But still, “I don’t know how.”
This happens fairly often. A child will volunteer to pray out loud and then get stage fright. “That’s okay, I’ll–”
“I’ll do it.”
Calvin offered to pray for us, and proceeded to do so, matter-of-factly, and totally comfortably. He remembered about half the things the other kids had mentioned, and I took over when he said he forgot the rest.
It was one of my favorite moments of the year (along with the glorious dog pile of a few months ago). When I was done praying, I thanked him.
“Oh yeah. I pray all the time. Pretty much, any time I’m napping, I’m praying.”
THIS is what I love about doing children’s worship — these little glimpses into the deep and real spiritual lives of children. I am so glad God dashed any assumptions I had about young Calvin.
I like to collect stories about children praying.
When friends of mine announced to their two sons that the mother was pregnant with a little girl, the younger son piped up, “I’ve been praying for that!” His parents had no idea that this had been their child’s fervent prayer. Don’t know if they even knew he had his own prayer life.
In a meeting with a pastor-friend, he told me about a member of his church who had recently come back from a tour in Afghanistan. He was in some kind of commanding position over there, and while he was gone, the Sunday School children were praying for himm. The leaders had the kids come up with what they wanted to pray for about this man. They decided on two things:
1. That people would use their words.
2. That he wouldn’t even have to fire his gun.
So the man returned and when they welcomed him back on Sunday, he said a few words about his deployment. He talked about how things ran really smoothly in his unit, how when they’d interact with local villagers, they’d manage to work through their issues through talking (which wasn’t the case for other units nearby). And then, offhandedly, he mentioned that he didn’t even fire his gun once. The Sunday School teachers were instantly weeping — nobody else knew that that’s precisely what the kids had been praying for.
I love these stories, but I’m a little wary about telling them, because there are surely many prayers of children that do not get answered in such dramatic fashion. There have certainly been prayers children have asked me to pray that I can’t and won’t. It’s the lesson of a lifetime that prayer isn’t about getting what you want, it’s more about communicating with the God who loves you, and about changing your heart. And being grateful when you do recognize God at work.
I don’t know whether my children have a prayer life outside of what we do together. I certainly encourage it. And we model praying in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Maybe I’ll ask. But maybe I’ll let it surprise me sometime. That seems to be the method God prefers.
Do you have any stories about praying children you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them.