Friday, July 17, 2009

More on Prayer and My Early Christian Experience

Eventually I realized that my family’s habits of prayer didn’t exactly line up with the more common evangelical understanding of the practice.

I think the first inkling of the disparity happened the summer between kindergarten and first grade. That summer I can remember going often to my cousins’ house to play, and sometimes I’d be invited to stay for dinner or even spend the night. They prayed on a whole other level. My mom’s brother, his wife and their girls didn’t exactly talk to Jesus like he was an ordinary person in the room, but they made him sound a whole lot closer to us than someone who I had to implore to “let thy gifts to us be blest.”

At five, I had a vague idea that their church was somehow different than the formal beauty of my Lutheran one, but couldn’t conceive of what form those differences took. They went to a big church in Southern California, which I now know is the original mecca for born-again believers in Orange County, a huge non-denominational church led by a man who has taught the Bible to generations of Southern Californians. But that’s information for another topic.

Anyway, that summer, my cousins showed me that I had no idea what prayer was. When they asked me to pray and I parroted my little sing-song poem, something subtle in their reactions told me the prayer didn’t meet expectations. Did they shift uncomfortably in their chairs? Did pity show in their eyes? Did my the most forthright of my cousins tactlessly tell me I did it wrong?

I’m not sure, but I wonder what it says about me that instead of being eager to learn the truth, I pretended I knew all along, and hoped they never find out what a heathen I was. It seems I was full of my strange mixture of pride and shame and doubts even then. Sitting there with them praying so earnestly and urgently, I immediately felt different and therefore ashamed. My recited prayers weren’t good enough. I must not be a good or “real” Christian. And suddenly the most important order of business in my young life was making sure I never let them or anyone else find me out.

That reaction might seem extreme. It doesn’t help that I envied and admired my cousins my whole life. They lived in a big house and had beautiful things. My uncle was a doctor. Their thick, straight hair was always fixed in glossy smooth ponytails with bows that matched their dresses, while my sister and I had frizzy hair my mother was unable to control and hand-made or hand-me-down clothes. I wanted to be them, be a part of their family.

I noticed more differences that summer. They talked about Jesus living in your heart and inviting Him in. My family talked about baptism and remembering my spiritual birthday by lighting a candle. When my uncle and aunt came to tuck us in at night, they’d help us say bedtime prayers. At my house, bedtime was a time for Daddy to read us stories with funny voices or for mom to give us a backrub. We never prayed at bedtime.

No comments:

Post a Comment

There was an error in this gadget