I like to blame all my social dysfunctions on the three years I spent in private school. Fourth to sixth grade wasn’t all that bad, though the transition to junior high from a school of 75 (K-12) was a difficult one. The aspect of private school I most look back on with aversion was that we were all separated.
Three-foot long boards divided me from my neighboring classmates. I sat for hours staring at the corkboard wall before me. I’m not sure what hung on my little wall. Grade charts, class rules? King James Scripture verses most likely. Our curriculum consisted of workbooks for each subject called PACEs, which we completed on our own. (I’m not sure what PACE stands for. I googled it and saw the cartoon figures featured in those booklets and started shaking uncontrollably.) Aside from recess and lunch, I spent three years in a private cave.
My first day of public junior high was not unlike that of most kids, fraught with the anxiety of fitting in. Although, I was ecstatic to not have to spend my days staring at a wall. Instead I found an eighth grader in algebra whom I preferred gazing at. She had an interesting name I still remember today: Beri. Her name was fitting, for she had strawberry blonde hair that also smelled like strawberries.
I don’t know if I ever said a word to Beri. I found conversation with just about all my peers complicated. It wasn’t until eighth grade that I had any friends, really. But the summer before my senior year I decided I no longer wanted to be the kid no one talked to. I longed for community but hadn’t figured out how to enter in.
I got a leg up in high school, since my older brother, then a junior, was quite popular. Because he was dating a girl who monopolized his attention, I sort of inherited his friends—the girls, at least, and they were the only ones I was concerned about. I’m not sure if it’s still common today, but passing notes was how we communicated then.
A lover of books and writing, I drew some female attention because I could string together complete thoughts. I learned how to fold torn-out notebook paper the way the girls did, and even more importantly how to unfold theirs. This was back before Facebook and Twitter and texting. Before cell phones. (Actually, cell phones did exist; they just resembled bricks.) I remember a girl for whom I would compose limericks. Older than I was and breathtakingly beautiful, she was entirely out of my league, very similar to the girl I would marry.
God Can Be Chatty
I did reasonably well in social settings, in actually talking to the girls, but writing was how I liked to communicate. So it is understandable that when I began talking to God it was through writing, though I never cleverly folded notes for Him. It began after high school, when I took a year off before college and I started reading the Bible. I would jot down notes in a journal. I discovered community with God. He would speak to me through Scripture, and I usually responded with a pen and paper.
Over the years, I learned to talk to God in other ways. Sometimes it’s through focused times of “intercession,” which is a kind of prayer when you pray with specific requests for others. You could call this petitioning, which would be general requests, whereas intercession implies prayers for others. The Bible, for instance, tells us Jesus intercedes on our behalf. For many, intercession (or petitioning) is the most common prayer. You might have a list of requests, similar to a grocery list. Or maybe you keep bringing before God a solitary request over and over.
Adoration and thanksgiving prayers accompany spiritual growth, when we move beyond always asking for something, like young children do, to praising God for who He is and what He has done. Prayers of repentance also become more common, as we become more sensitive to the sin that separates us from God, much like those dividers did back in sixth grade.
As with all types of prayer, I’m still learning about conversational prayer—simply talking with God. Immersing myself in God’s Word, I try throughout my day to simply think about what He has spoken—meditating on something other than (or, I should say, in addition to) baseball stats and chord structures. Sometimes it’s a question: what is God up to today?
I imagine God watching me as I wake the way I’ve watched Micah. He slowly rouses from sleep and his hair is all messed up and a little sweaty. His eyes strain from the light, and he gazes at me with a look that says, where am I and how’d I get here? I envision God tapping me on the shoulder: “Wake up, little one. Let’s spend the day together. Come to work with Me today. It’s Father-Son Day at the office” (which is the world!).
Jesus’ close followers had heard Him pray, and apparently impressed with the way He spoke to the Father, they asked Him to teach them to pray. The first thing He told them was to get alone with God. See, the religious leaders of the day were entirely concerned with outward appearances. They would pray on the street corners in loud voices to draw attention to their piety. Jesus was saying that prayer is a conversation with the Father cultivated in private places. If I only ever talked to my wife via Facebook or Twitter—which she joined last week!!—then our relationship would suffer. We would never benefit from intimate conversation. Jesus said to get alone with the Father first. Now, there are certainly times for public prayers. We see this throughout Scripture, though usually the public prayers take place in worship settings or in gatherings of believers.
National Talk to God Day
I’ve grown increasingly concerned the past few weeks when I’ve read mistaken reports about President Obama’s canceling the National Day of Prayer. (Maybe God isn’t even all that fond of these prayer services. See Matthew 6:5.) A little research shows the inaccuracy of such a widely-disseminated rumor. Yes, it’s true; a federal judge did rule that the idea—or maybe it was the proclamation of—a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, which may be correct, despite our misgivings. Yes, many of the “founding fathers” believed in Jesus, but they all didn’t. And since many immigrated to the colonies to escape the Church of England and the Catholic Church in Europe, the framers of the Constitution wanted to make sure the government couldn’t have the power to mandate any religion or national church.
We should not expect our government to give directives concerning prayer. I personally don’t need the President to tell me to talk with God, just as I don’t need Congress to tell me I can talk with my wife and children. We decry our government and forget about people like Daniel.
Daniel, my brother, you are older than me
As a young man, Daniel was carried off to Babylon after Israel and Judah had been captured. Having descended from a noble family, he displayed potential in the Babylonian government. His training in the schools of the wise men was to fit him for service to the empire. Daniel had distinguished himself as a great leader, even serving as one of only three administrators who oversaw 120 governors. This drew the ire of the other court advisors. So they drew up a plan to get rid of Daniel. They issued legislation, which the king signed, that forbade anyone to pray to anyone other than the king. You’re probably familiar with the rest of the story about his encounter with some lions. (It’s found in Daniel 6.)
We live in a wonderful country where we are free to do just about anything. Including praying. Praying in churches and public parks, in our cars and in restaurants, in our homes and in our “closets.” Even if there were no National Day of Prayer services, we could still pray wherever and with whomever we want. And the greatest thing is that at any moment of the day we can talk with the Creator of the universe. No need for cell phones, Twitter, or exotically-folded notes.