In the 2017 – 2018 academic school year, I gave a homily to K – 6th grade students at The Academy of Classical Christian studies in Oklahoma City. Here’s what I said.
Pray Without Ceasing
It wasn’t too long ago I stood up here and said something extreme. We read the passage where Paul says to pray without ceasing. I told you that you ought to be praying at all times, even in math class, even in Latin class, even at your sports events.
Today I want to say exactly the same thing, except illuminate a little more what that has looked like in my own life.
Last night I was trying to pick out cheese at Trader Joes. I sifted through Cheddars, Brie’s, Gouda’s, Fontina’s, only to realize that my son was reorganizing the entire cheese section below. I corrected him, but he continued his reorganization project, only to add a little smashing of Brie against the wall this time. I was immediately angry. First of all, it was my wife’s turn to watch him in the store so I could pick out cheese. Where was she? Second, why isn’t he listening to me? Third, why are there so many cheeses and why can’t I afford 95 % of them? I need more money!
It wasn’t a few minutes before this I was reminded that I was speaking in chapel this morning. I’d like to tell you I jumped with joy at the thought of sharing with you.
Instead, I grew more frustrated and overwhelmed. First, I have to grade 6th and 7th grade vocabulary homework. Second, I have 100 pages left to read for 8th grade Omnibus tomorrow. Third, I have to check and read all these emails I get, because everyone already knows I’m bad at reading them. Fourth, did I even remember to put all the assignments on Renweb on Friday? Probably not. Fifth, I had already planned to talk to a friend at 8, and I have no idea how long it’s going to take. Sixth, I have latework to grade and that parent keeps emailing about it.
What took me an entire paragraph to write took me a split second in real time to feel. In turn, my stomach didn’t feel well, my throat was slightly swollen, and I’d already been working for hours on a Sunday. What was I supposed to do? The feeling of powerlessness in the midst of the world’s demands felt so trapping. What was I supposed to do?
You see, without prayer, my world began closing in on itself very quickly. There seemed no way out except through anger and blaming others for my problems, which in turn seemed to only speed up the disconnection I felt from my wife, my son, the people in the store, and the beautiful evening weather outside. Beauty in nature, abundance of amazing food, a loving relationship with my wife, a beautiful baby, a promising future, summer in sight – without prayer – I couldn’t see any of those things. I could only see me.
Prayer is our tool to open up our little worlds to God.
Prayer is the Holy Spirit piercing through the darkness of my own making, connecting my world to the real one, where Christ reigns in all power, where I belong, and where all things are okay.
Beginning to pray always looked like learning to tell God exactly where I was at. “God, I don’t want to be here; God, I feel hatred right now and I don’t know what to do. It’s not going away. God, I don’t want to pray; I don’t want to go to church this morning. God, why did you let that happen? God, I can’t tell anyone about this. God, I’m scared right now. I can’t stop obsessing, God, I don’t know what to do.
Or take a few positive examples.
“God, thank you for breakfast tacos this morning. God, thank you for my friend Josh and his love of boardgames. God, I love this song. God, thank you for the wisdom of my colleagues. God, I really love this sport I get to play. God, I can’t wait to be older. God, what a joy it is to read. God, how beautiful the sky is this morning.”
And so, once again, I exhort you to pray always. Open up your world to God’s with the simplest of prayers.