I can get kind of shallow in my prayers. But, a few years ago my daughter, Joelle, taught me how to pray with more depth and meaning. And she did it when she was two.
Now, it’s not that I don’t know how to pray. I’ve been a praying Christian for years. I’ve read all the books, I’ve studied all the greats - Augustine, Brother Lawrence, and a dozen others. I’ve given talks and written seminary papers. I’ve fasted, and prayerwalked, and read the Lord’s Prayer in Greek. I’ve even written articles! And still, it took a two year old to really show me how to pray.
It happened like this: The food steamed on the table. The silverware shone. Our older daughter, Bethany (then 5), squirmed in her seat. “Who’s gonna pray so we can eat?” She looked down at the spaghetti on her plate.
I opened my mouth to volunteer, but before I could say a word, a little voice piped up from beside me.
“Me do it. I pray.”
I glanced at our two-year-old daughter, Joelle. “Okay, you do it. You know what to do?”
She’d never prayed out loud for a meal before, but she had heard us pray hundreds of times. We always asked God to bless the food and thanked Him for it.
Joelle folded her hands as we all bowed our heads.
Then, we waited. And waited.
I peeked at her. “Go ahead, sweetie. Pray.”
She closed her eyes. Then, came her prayer, loud and clear over the table. “Jesus no cry. Jesus be happy. Amen.”
We all looked up.
Bethany frowned. “That’s a funny prayer. Can we eat now or not?”
I tapped her hand and shushed her. “It’s a great prayer. You can eat.”
Joelle stuffed her fork into her spaghetti and ignored her sister. “I pray,” she muttered.
I smiled as I contemplated her words. She prayed all right. A prayer no one had taught her, a prayer that came right from her heart, a prayer that put all my grown-up prayers to shame. In six simple words, Joelle had gotten to the heart of God-honoring prayer - not a rote repetition about the food, but a sincere desire for Jesus to be happy.
As I sat there twirling spaghetti on my fork, I thought about how my prayers compared with Joelle’s. Sure, I knew all the right phrases and all the how-to’s. Yet, as I contemplated her simple words, I saw how woefully self-centered my own prayers had become. I asked for blessings on my family, help with my work, wisdom in dealing with people, and that all would go well. Good things, surely, and things that God wants me to pray for. But it wasn’t enough. If I were to simplify my prayers down to Joelle’s language, I saw that they would sound more like “Marlo no cry. Marlo be happy.”
Where Joelle prays for Jesus, I pray for me.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:10 (NIV) to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I’ve read those words so many times, but only through Joelle’s prayer have I seen their deeper meaning. When we spurn God’s will, Jesus weeps. When we do His will, Jesus is happy.
So, instead of only asking for God’s blessing, I want to focus more on asking God to help me to be pleasing to Him. As I ask for His help in my work and writing, I want to also voice my desire for Him to help me to glorify Him in my life. When I ask for wisdom, I want to ask Him to help me honor Him in all I do and think. And instead of focusing on my desire for all to go well, maybe I’ll ask Him what I can do to bring Him joy.
In other words, I want to learn to pray with childlike faith. To pray, “Jesus no cry. Jesus be happy.” And that's why you (and I!) should pray like a two year old!
Joelle praying to accept Jesus when she was two.