Nine times out of ten, the questions and chatter that arises from the backseat of our van are typical, always along the same threads- Did you see that truck? I dropped my ball/stickers/doll/cheap-toy-from-the-fast-food-place-that-we-shouldn’t-be-going-to-anyway, can I get down and pick it up at our next stop? Red Light! Can you turn the music up/down/to another station? Where are we going? How much longer? Alex/Lila/Asher is bothering me.
As with most things in life, it’s always the one out of ten that gets me. It’s Lila asking over the melody of a Matt Maher song while I’m pulling to a stop at red light, What’s an empty prayer?
I think I answered her quickly, so as not to put her off or lose the moment, something along the lines of, it’s when you are praying without meaning what you’re saying. Or if you’re just doing it because you’re supposed to, but without feeling.
She didn’t ask any follow-up questions, hasn’t mentioned it since, but for whatever reason my brain has been stumbling around the concept since she brought it up. I consider the other ways I could have explained it to her.
Our prayers are like letters and an empty prayer is like sending an empty envelope – what’s the point?
No, that’s not quite right.
If your heart is a house and you open the doors but no one is home, it’s empty. Your words come from your heart and when they are coming from an empty place, they might be easier to say, because they are free (from conviction or emotion), but they are also empty.
Wow. That’s too wordy. I think I confused myself.
When you are doing something without putting your whole heart into it, you aren’t doing your best. And we should always do our best…
Wait? Is prayer a competitive sport?
When you come to me and I’m distracted and I halfheartedly pat your head and tell you it’s okay, you’ll be okay – you can sense that I’m distracted. You linger at my hip until I acknowledge you fully, with my eyes. You wait for me to kneel down to your level and not only ask what’s wrong, but listen for your reply. You wait for me to take the hands that are patting your head and wrap them around you in a hug. You don’t want me, half-working, half-mothering. You want me, there, in that moment. Fully.
Oh. I get it, God. This isn’t about finding answers for Lila at all. This is about me.
And this isn’t about my own middling prayer life or how I fall asleep mid-praise or request, and it isn’t about me needing to pay more attention to my little ones. It’s about my heart, my words and all of the above.
It’s about filling emptiness, in myself, in my relationships, with your patience, love and grace. It’s about not being swayed or distracted, but present. It’s about the words that I use, the questions that I answer, the prayers that I lift, the quick kisses goodbye or the hugs goodnight.
Let me be thoughtful, let me be meaningful. Let me be full.
I want to be the cup that’s overflowing, the glass that when bumped (by stress, by misunderstanding, by the third poo-splosion diaper of the day) spills over with peace.
And perhaps wisdom too.
You know, so that it doesn’t take me three days to come up with an appropriate response to my five year old’s questions. That would be great.