“I would pray, but I don’t know how… Nobody taught me how to pray… Nobody… taught me… how to pray…” says Sandra Bullock’s character in “Gravity” – a recent Hollywood movie which garnered seven Oscars. If that’s not the cry of every adult who grew up without religious guidance from his parents… If that’s not the cry of every young adult who goes off to college, runs into trouble, and does not know what to do.
I know that cry. Nobody taught me how to pray growing up.
I grew up with Christian parents who took me to church once a year, on Easter. We had no Bible in the home. When I started reading the Bible on my own, they panicked. Nobody we knew read the Bible unless they were Protestants, and Protestants were a religious minority in Orthodox Romania.
Protestants were not even considered fully Romanian. After I received baptism as an adult and joined a Protestant denomination, one of our family friends asked me, “Why have you betrayed us?” Somehow Romanians have been taught to equate Orthodox Christianity with being a Romanian.
Protestantism is German or American in their book, probably because of Martin Luther and American Evangelicals who came to Romania as missionaries after the Berlin Wall fell.
When the Lord called me, at 16, and started guiding me, the first thing He taught me was to pray before my meals. I found an Orthodox Book of Prayers and looked for Mealtime Prayer in the Contents. It was the Lord’s Prayer and I read it before every meal I had by myself. I was still embarrassed to show my family that I had become “religious.”
Over time, I came out of the religious closet. I also learned to pray with my own words.
The irony is, many American adults are turned off by the concept of prayer. Their parents took them to church every week and told them to say their prayers before meals. It all became a meaningless ritual. A friend of mine who grew up in a ritualistic, rigid, empty, church-going home, came over for dinner one time. Before we could even say anything about offering a prayer of thanks before the meal, she said, “We don’t need to pray. I’m thankful, aren’t you?” We did not offer a formal prayer.
So there is a balance. When we teach our children to pray, we should make it meaningful and help them understand they are talking to the Lord Jesus, Who loves them and longs to hear their voices addressing Him. If our prayers are rushed and lifeless, a rote ritual before driving somewhere or before family worship, we might do our children more harm than not teaching them to pray at all. That’s all I’m saying.