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Column: Taking time for prayer (and not missing the bus)

I’ve been thinking about prayer lately. Praying out loud. Praying silently. Praying officially. Praying personally. Praying to thank and praying to request.

Prayer has never been a weird or hard thing for me. Growing up we prayed before each meal, at bedtime, in Sunday School, at church. And every morning after eating a freshly made breakfast of bacon and eggs or pancakes or waffles or oatmeal (never cold cereal, because it was expensive and Mom always thought homemade was best), we had devotions and prayer together before heading out for the day.

We’d sit patiently (or not) at the table while Dad or Mom read devotions out loud and then prayed.

Dad’s prayers always began the same way: “Our Dear Heavenly Father…”

I, for years, understood this to be “Hawdra Heavenly Father,” which I couldn’t figure out and thought must be some Bible mystery unknown to youngsters like me. What could “Hawdra Heavenly Father” mean? Strange.

My mind would wander from that point on. With my eyes squinched shut and my hands probably not folded, I would find myself worrying about the length of time that Dad was praying. I desperately wanted to peek at the clock, but I couldn’t see it from my seat without turning around. I became rapidly convinced that we were going to miss the bus if Dad kept on praying one second longer.

I perfected the little “ahem” cough — a cough meant not to clear my throat but to remind my father of our existence. It never worked. Dad prayed until he was jolly well done and then we jumped up, brushed our teeth and hurried out the door.

I never missed the bus. Not once.

I think my sister Jenny did a time or two, but that wasn’t Dad’s fault. She was a loiterer.

Mom always waved to us from the dining room window when we left for school, and, rain or shine, we’d turn to look back at her and wave when we reached the birch tree at the bend in the path.

So yeah, prayer holds some good memories, even if it did make me antsy.

I know that praying out loud can be scary for some people, and that always makes me sad because I want to hear what they have to say. I know that there are words — lovely, heartfelt, important words — that are in their hearts, and I wish I could hear what they are.

Maybe I’m just nosy. But truly, I love hearing people pray.

I love how people’s voices change when they pray. My mother’s voice softens as soon as she closes her eyes and bows her head. Not that she’s loud or strident when speaking, but her demeanor gentles. She becomes less and He becomes more.

I have seen this in other ladies, too. And in men, though somehow with them it seems to be more a tone of honor that they appropriate. I don’t think that’s sexist; just truth as I’ve seen it in a lifetime of hearing men and women pray.

Let me leave you with a funny prayer story. Many years ago, my mom was teaching a young children’s Sunday School class. After opening the class with prayer, a little girl spoke up quite bossily. “Teacher,” she said. “Billy had his eyes open during prayer.”

It’s a good thing that God loves even the little boys — and girls — who peek during prayer time.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12 NIV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.

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