One of my prized possessions is a children’s prayer book that used to belong to my mother. The cover has a picture of a beautiful girl with long blonde hair. She’s wearing what I’ve always thought is her nightgown, but which may actually be a choir robe. The girl’s hands are folded before her in the manner proper for Catholic worship: palms pressed together with fingers pointing upward and a cross made by covering the left thumb with the right. A midnight blue background makes the girl even more lovely as her bright image stands out against the dark contrast and a halo of stars circles round her head.
Pages are torn. Some are missing. Others have been marked with orange crayon playfully wielded by a child’s hand, probably my mom’s . . . I hate to think that I myself would have marred the pages. The binding is broken and has been feebly mended with masking tape. The book is barely held together at all.
Mom was just six years old when A Child Prays was published and given to her. She claimed ownership right away by writing her name and address on the very last page. Twenty-five years later, she passed the book down to me as a gift for my First Holy Communion.
I’ve read several parts over and over throughout the years. In my opinion, the best content is up front, within the first ten pages. That’s where I found and memorized the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, and my favorite—the Prayer to My Guardian Angel:
Angel of God,
My guardian dear,
To whom God’s love
Entrusts me here,
Ever this day
Be at my side,
To light and guard,
To rule and guide. Amen.
Many times while walking home alone in the dark of night from a friend’s house, I earnestly implored my guardian angel to protect me all the way.
When I became a Presbyterian, Pastor Janet changed my thinking and my practices. She said I didn’t need to pray to my guardian angel, any of the saints, or even to Mother Mary. Because God Himself listens for our prayers, we could bring all our petitions to Him.
That was a hard transition. I had been comforted by my conversations with Mary and the others and knew they would intercede for me by passing my requests on to God. For years, I continued to open my prayers with the Sign of the Cross—reverent and relevant still, no matter my denomination—and I kept praying to the Blessed Virgin. But in time, I conformed to the Presbyterian way and began focusing my attention directly on God.
Today, as I was working on this article, I overheard a telephone conversation between a guest in my home and her sister. Their mother was suffering from complications of diverticulitis and was hospitalized like she had been years earlier, when a similar health scare had progressed to sepsis. Kim was worried. She said she would be leaving shortly to visit and sit with her mom for the remainder of the afternoon.
I didn’t know Kim’s views on God, and I didn’t know if she would welcome my prayers. But clearly, prayers were needed. God’s perfect timing was too strong to ignore. I approached Kim and asked if she would like me to pray with her. We held hands, bowed our heads, and simply asked God for what we wanted. Both of us cried tears of hope that God would heal Kim’s mother.
Initiating prayer with people outside my immediate family and close friends doesn’t happen automatically. I hesitate and fail to follow-through much more often than I choose to follow my convictions. Today, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that I heard Kim talking with her sister at the exact moment I was reading Pastor Janet’s sermon, “What, Then, Should We Pray?”
In her notes, Janet recalled a sad situation in which she joined her seminary community in praying for a friend’s two-year old boy who went from playing basketball in the day to running a fever and slipping into a coma at night. The group’s prayers didn’t prevent the boy from dying. Janet lamented and wondered, “What could we pray that would make a difference now?” and “Why, when we ask, do we not receive?”
Janet concluded that we shouldn’t let our indecisiveness, insecurities, or doubts stop us from praying. We have the Holy Spirit—our ultimate intercessor—who will nudge us along in the process. Janet said,
“As we come before God in prayer for ourselves and for other members of our community, we open ourselves up to what God is doing in our lives. As we spend time in prayer, we may discover new ways in which we can help the situation: new ideas about how to approach a problem, or where to go to further investigate the options. When we offer ourselves as a channel through which God can work, we often become aware of promising things we can do for others . . . And so, we must pray—trusting the Spirit of God who intercedes for us according to the will of God.”
If you ever feel uncertain about what to pray for, I encourage you to get something—anything—out for God to hear. Plunge right in with a simple, heartfelt request or first draw close to God with this easy, concise prayer that Janet taught:
I always thought Janet had written those words. After her death, I shared her prayer with children during Vacation Bible School. When my husband Greg and I established our foundation, we printed her prayer on promotional cards. And this year, during Bible Study Fellowship—an in-depth, world-wide program, I volunteered in the children’s nursery. The leaders there had us sing these very same words to the babies and toddlers in our class.
I was surprised to hear Janet’s prayer set to music and shocked to think that she might not be the author. But unable to find out more about the song, I prefer to believe Janet did compose it after all, and it just happened to spread like wildfire.
It could be true. She was that inspiring.
But of course, Jesus was too:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.