Ready for the Guardians of Ancora Bible Quest on prayer – ‘How to Talk with God’ – Australian Beth Barnett has been writing articles to help parents think-around what it means to pray – and what it means to pray with your child and as a family. That’s got her remembering a bit of a disaster in London…
On one of my trips to London, my family treated me with tickets to take my niece to the theatre, to see The Lion King. We had a wonderful afternoon, and as we walked back from the theatre to the station we stopped at a street vendor and I bought my niece an ice-cream. As I put my purse back into my bag, and felt around, I realised that my phone was missing.
Worse, not my phone – but the phone I had borrowed from my brother-in-law (my niece’s dad).
Even worse, the phone I had borrowed from my brother-in-law which was in a flip case containing his credit cards.
Really, I admit, I have a knack for getting into scrapes, but being far away from home, responsible for a young child, and losing someone else’s phone and credit cards was close to one of my greatest disasters.
The first words I spoke, to be honest, were not prayer words. They were words that the tender 8-year-old ears of my niece had in fact never heard before, but she immediately picked up the vibe that something was amiss.
I explained to my niece what had happened and that we would have to return to the theatre and see if the phone was there. As we pounded back across Waterloo Bridge, the following conversation took place:
Niece: ‘What are we going to do?’
Me: ‘Here’s what we need to do: We need to pray.’
Niece: ‘What? Pray while we’re walking on the street?’
Me: ‘Yes. Now is the time we especially need to pray. Because I have done something terrible in not looking after your dad’s phone. So we need to agree on what to pray. Jesus says that when we pray we should agree on what we are going to pray for. So what do you think we should pray? Do you think we should pray that someone finds the phone and somehow gets it back to us? Or should we pray that no one finds the phone, and that it sits right wherever it is, until we can find it?’
Niece: ‘I think we should pray that we find the phone and nobody else takes it.’
Me: ‘OK, good. I agree. Let’s pray that.’
Niece: ‘What? Are you going to pray that now, as we’re walking on the street?’
Me: ‘Yes. I sure am. I am going to pray right now, right here. Dear Jesus, I am really sorry that I have lost the phone. We know that you know everything, and the phone isn’t lost to you. We pray that the phone will stay safe where it is until we can find it. Please help us to find the phone before anyone else does. Thanks that we can talk to you about this and that you are with us now. Amen.’
Niece: ‘That was so weird!’
Me: ‘Well, it’s kind of a weird situation all around.’
Niece: ‘Well, I think we should pray one more thing. We should pray that you will not be so worried about this.’
Me: ‘You’re right. That’s a good idea. Dear Jesus, thanks for being with us and giving us good ideas about what to pray. Please help me to trust in you and to not be so worried about the phone. Amen.’
We returned to the theatre. It was completely locked. We banged on the door for 5 minutes before anyone came and directed us around to the stage door. We explained our situation and gave the seat numbers we had been sitting in… and a member of staff found the phone beneath the seat and returned it to us. Phew!
As we were walking back to Waterloo Station, my niece said, ‘I can’t wait to tell Daddy about you losing his phone.’
‘It’s quite a story,’ I agreed, ‘and you can certainly tell him all about it, but I need to tell him first, because I am the person who did the wrong thing, and I need to confess that to him. Just like at school if someone is does something wrong, it is better for them to own up, than for others in the class to dob. So I will confess the wrong thing I did – and then you can tell him all about the other bits.’
She hesitated and then agreed, ‘I guess so. But not about the praying. I’m not going to tell him about the praying on the street bit. Don’t tell him about that. Dad would think that was so weird.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘You don’t think your dad sometimes walks down the street praying? Maybe not aloud, but I’ve heard your dad pray – giving thanks for our meals and that we can be together as a family. I know he’s a friend of God and talks to God, too. And he knows that I love and trust God. I don’t think he’d think it was weird that we prayed walking along the street.’
This idea obviously had her puzzled.
Of course, on the one hand she is right: Prayer – any prayer – is a rather bizarre and puzzling thing. For a small finite human to speak a God who is so great that he is more than we can possibly take in with our two eyes is bizarre. How dare we talk to God?
But, then, how dare we not talk to God? Are we really going to try and tough out life in the universe on our own? Are we really going to pretend we’ve got it sorted?
Do we want our children to think that we are trying to pull off all the challenges of life by ourselves? Or might it be a good thing for them to see that we know when to call out for some help – to look to resources beyond ourselves, especially for those of us prone to getting into scrapes?
Beth is currently undertaking doctoral studies in the area of New Testament examining the constructs of maturity in the letters of Paul. She has held pastoral roles in Baptist and Anglican churches and been a long-term volunteer in the missions of Scripture Union, for whom she is a freelance resource writer and trainer. She teaches units in Children and Families Ministry and Biblical Studies at Stirling College, as well as guest lectures in other Melbourne, Australia, colleges. Internationally, she is a writer and facilitator in the Child Theology Movement.