A big part of any parents duties includes the challenge of trying to teach kids about the world around them, and about how they ought to act. The varied lessons include talking (and listening!), dressing oneself, eating without leaving bits of food in a three foot radius around your chair, basic rules about sports, what it is to love… there is really no area which this new person will not need some instruction, guidance, or help to better understand.
A couple weeks ago, my eldest daughter asked me to help her with one of the more difficult of these lessons: how can she hear God’s voice in her heart? In other words, she is asking how to pray. For a seasoned youth minister like me, I wish it was as easy as explaining simple sporting rules or just teaching her to pay better attention… but when it comes down to it, hearing God’s voice – and all of prayer – really uses all the different skills I listed above. Think about it. To pray, you need to both speak and listen. Praying can both include “putting on” the Lord (by letting Him transform you) and cleaning up your messes (by asking Him for forgiveness and letting Him set aright wherever you may have gotten mixed up), it requires basic practices in order to succeed – especially practice, and is really, in the end, all about love. For all the rest of what we’ve looked at in this YouCat study, it is truly this relationship of prayer that sets into it’s proper context what we believe, how we worship, and the way in which we live our lives:
“Prayer is turning the heart towards God. When a person prays, he enters into a living relationship with God.” -YouCat 469
Without this relationship, our faith can be reduced to a set of beliefs someone else wrote down, of rituals devoid of meaning to us, and of rules which don’t seem to make much sense to us other than preventing us from doing some things which are clearly harmful to us and other things we really want to be able to do. For this reason, my daughter’s question really is an important one. And it’s one I’ve tried to answer again and again during my years of youth ministry, and on many occasions I’ve come across this quote from the Little Flower:
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy.” –St. Therese of Lisieux
This simple quote is loaded with meaning, but I want to focus on three things. It first of all demonstrates the faith of one who is in relationship with God, as she speaks of her heart ‘surging’ in prayer. Anyone who has ever been in love has known the experience of being “twitterpated” and experiencing a surge of the heart at the sight or even the mere mention of their beloved. Second, St. Theresa points out that the one who prays looks beyond him or herself, to Heaven… seeking to know the God who has created and continues to love us. It’s not simply a question of deep self-reflection but is by its very design aimed to this eternal ‘Other’ we know as God. And finally, that it embraces trial and joy focuses on the fact that prayer is not simply there for the easy times when God seems close to us, it’s also for the difficult times where God is quiet or when life is difficult, and God seems very far away. The point with prayer is to put in the effort to fall in love with God by turning to Him in the blessed moments of our lives, the ordinary moments, and the difficult ones.
This is what I’m trying to teach my daughter. Not only by leading her through different methods of prayer and helping her to build her own routine, but also by hopefully being a good model of a man in love, turning to the God who is far beyond me, and turning to Him in each circumstance of my life. And hopefully, as she learns, watches, and imitates, she will be able to learn the sound of God’s beautiful voice speaking to her heart.