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Friday, January 4, 2013

Catechism: Praying Hot Dogs

In the days that followed, Liz and I spent time in prayer together for our catechism class. We longed for the kids to really “get it.” When Tuesday came, my Quantitative Analysis Chemistry lab class ran long; we were nearly late for catechism. In fact, had Sister Mary Margaret* not come early to put the worksheets on the teacher’s desk for us, we would have been late.

Instead, our bodies crossed the threshold about the same time as the pint-size hoards began their entry. David came through the door, no basketball in hand.

“Thanks, David, for leaving your ball at home.”

“It wasn’t my ball; it’s Jimmy’s.” Sure enough; Jimmy was right behind him, holding the basketball.

“Not today, boys. Give me that ball, Jimmy.” Jimmy ducked and swiveled his speedy little body away from my grasp. Run after him? Nope, that’s what Jimmy wanted. “Jimmy, if I see that ball out from under that desk, even once, I’m gonna take it to Sister Mary Margaret*’s office. You can pick it up there after class.” The group’s single intake of breath let me know I’d found the right penalty. Undoubtedly, the kids had heard a trip to Sister Mary Margaret’s office was to be avoided. Great!

The beginning of the class time was pretty much a repeat of the previous week, with the exception that we didn’t take the kids outside for singing. A quick glance at the worksheet revealed another long-ago-learned lesson so we kept them on the desk.

Liz and I took a long roll of paper to the back of the room, all eyes on us as we moved. Unrolling the sheet, I hoisted it up to the top of the corkboard. I held it in place, as Liz tacked all four corners securely. “Do you see what’s written at the top of this poster, kids?”

“Prayer Requests!” shouted several little voices.

“Yes, and what else?” I smiled now, not because they could read the poster’s title, but because they were all attentive, eagerly waiting to see what would happen next.

“Name!” Offered one little girl.

“Need!” said another little girl next to the first.

“Date Asked and Date Answered!” Echoed two little boys from opposite sides of the group, now huddling around us.

“Good! Now, everyone, back in your seats.” Liz and I carefully moved forward to break up the huddle; kids scrambled to their seats. So far, so good, I said to myself.

As soon as we reached the front of the room, I asked the kids to prepare to pray. They did and I prayed. “Father God, please help us to share about prayer in just the way You want us to, so that the children can understand. God, help us to make things clear so that Jimmy and David won’t want to bounce their ball instead of listening to us. (A quick glance out one slightly raised eyelid let me see Jimmy return the ball to its place under the desk.) Please, Jesus, help the kids to listen and want to pray. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

“God doesn’t want to listen to kids, does He? It’s the grown-ups who always pray and the kids have to be quiet.” The question/comment came as heads lifted.

“Oh, but God does want to listen to children’s prayers! You are all very important to God.” I delighted in the fact that our discussion was being initiated by one of the kids. “Prayer is just conversation with God. Yes, there are formal, memorized prayers, too; but there are also prayers that are just talking to God. These are called ‘conversational prayers.’ They are the easiest prayers, because you just speak to God like you speak to each other.”

“I can’t remember the words sometimes so I figure God stops where I made my mistake.” Lots of expressions of agreement filled the room.

I heard one distant, “Why bother?” and my heart broke. How I longed for the children to know God cared about them and their prayers.

“God doesn’t stop listening when you stumble with a memorized prayer. Quite the opposite; God listens to your heart. God knows what it is that you want to say and that’s what He hears. God will answer the prayers of children, not just adults.”

“Prove it!” It was Jimmy’s challenge, offered loud and clear over the top of every head as he stood. “If you’re so smart, teacher. Prove it!” The room was totally silent as Jimmy and I faced off. What little Jimmy didn’t know was that he was facing off with the Living God, Who loved him not a university student who was trying to teach him the truth about prayer. My eyes locked with Jimmy’s.

“You’re on, Jimmy! I’ll let God prove to you that I’m telling you the truth. God does care about your prayers and He‘ll answer you. But, children,” I said, breaking my link with Jimmy and looking at the class, “you need to realize that God, just like your parents, sometimes gives you an answer you do not want to hear. Sometimes the answer is ‘no’ or ‘wait.’ But, God always answers, because God always hears your prayers.”

At this point, Liz described how the chart worked. The children would tell the class their prayer request and the date noted. When the answer came, it would be recorded as would the date. We then asked the children if anyone had a prayer request that day. A long silence filled the room, until I wondered if we had made another mistake. The success of this lesson depended on someone stepping out with a request.

“My gerbil is sick. Daddy says he is dying, because he is old for a gerbil. Does God care about sick gerbils?” The class exploded in what was likely nervous giggles more than making fun of the little girl’s question. I cleared my throat.

“Well, God cares about every one of His creatures. I can guarantee that God cares a lot about how the sickness of your gerbil is hurting you. All of us have a certain number of days to live. God decides that before we are even born, actually. The life of a gerbil is usually short compared with ours, but I think we should ask God to help your gerbil get better, as a sign to you that God has heard your prayer.” I couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing coming from my mouth! A gerbil that is old and I was asking God to use this as a sign that he hears children’s prayers! What was I thinking? But, then, I knew it was not my own intellect that had spoken these words. Maybe God had something else in mind?

“Huh, you can’t really think that God gives a rip about some old gerbil, can you? He’s got more important stuff to work on than that, Teacher.” Jimmy’s icy blast chilled the air of expectancy considerably.

“Jimmy, what I do know is that God hears the prayers of children; that God cares about the prayers of children; and that God will heal Sarah’s gerbil, if it is in His plan to do so for her.” Jimmy just sneered his response. “Okay, kids, Liz will write our first request on the chart and put today’s date. Then we’ll pray for Sarah’s gerbil.”

The first thing the kids wanted to know when class resumed the following Tuesday was, did the sick gerbil die? In fact, he had not died but made a wonderful recovery just two days after the kids prayed. The date and answer were noted on the chart.

What followed could only be tagged a God thing, as one child after another offered a legitimate prayer request. Each name, request and date were noted on the chart. Each week those which had been answered were noted and dated, while progress reports, if any, were shared by the kids still waiting. All except for Jimmy, that is. Jimmy was still not getting personally involved with the prayer request chart. The kids tried to encourage him to join in but he always said he didn’t have anything he needed to pray about anyway.

The delays in answers gave us opportunities to share Bible stories related to needs. For example, we shared the story of the paralytic man from the Gospel of Mark (Mk 2:3-5.) His friends carried him to Jesus, only to find that they could not get in the door of the house where Jesus was speaking and healing the sick. They climbed up to the roof, made a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus. The man was healed, and the kids saw how we need to help one another when there is a need. All four of the people carrying the man had to hold up their end of the stretcher or he would have fallen off, etc. Then, it happened…the day we had all been waiting so long to see!

“Where’s the chart? Where’s the chart?” Jimmy, nearly breathless, ran into the classroom. “I need the chart right away. I have a BIG request. God’s just gotta help me!” His urgency sent my own silent prayer Heavenward, Oh, Jesus, please help Jimmy, whatever it is he needs so desperately.

“Liz is just now putting up the chart, Jimmy. You can be first to tell the class your prayer request, if you like.”

“Teacher, I gotta pray; everyone’s gotta pray. This is a big one.”

Of course, as an adult, I imagine all sorts of serious health problems in his family, or an accident, or problems between his parents…all kinds of adult-type problems that so often filter down to the life of a child. Seen from Jimmy’s eyes, though, his desperate need was as real as those just mentioned. Excitement grew as each child took his seat; word of Jimmy’s participation in the prayer chart had reached them all.

“Okay, class, Jimmy has a need he wants to share with us so we can pray for him. Go ahead, Jimmy, tell us what you would like us to pray about with you.” Jimmy stood and came to the front of the class…a real Jimmy-move as none of the other requests had necessitated such a spotlight. “It’s the Math test on Friday. If I don’t pass it, I’ll flunk the semester. In fact, I have to pass with a B to still pass this dumb class. I don’t know anything about Math, and I don’t want to know anything about it either. But, I don’t want to flunk. My dad would kill me. I’m in such a mess right now. God’s just gotta get me to pass.” David, Jimmy’s best friend, agreed with his grave situation; the rest of the class moaned in sympathy for Jimmy. This was something to which they could all relate, for sure.

“Okay, Jimmy, we’ll pray for you and your Math test. There’s just one thing: God may want you to study for the exam so that He can help you learn the material for the test. I’m sure you are smart enough to pass the test, but you may need some help knowing when to study. What would you need to have happened to let you know that God was arranging a study time for you?” Jimmy took a minute to consider the question. Then, a huge smile filled his face.

“Well, I usually go home after school and watch cartoons. I guess if I came home from school and like the President was giving some speech or something boring like that, I’d know it was God telling me it was time to study for the math test. Yup, that would do it…the President on television instead of my cartoons.”

The request was recorded on the chart appropriately and the whole class prayed for Jimmy’s need.

For the rest of the week, I pretty much begged God on Jimmy’s behalf…like that would make any difference. I mean, I don’t need to twist God’s arm, do I? I knew that, of course, but I just longed for Jimmy to know God loved him and cared about his prayers. I couldn’t stop thinking about Jimmy.

At last, it was Tuesday and time for class. Liz had the chart up before the kids arrived so we were all anticipating Jimmy’s report. Though not always the case, Jimmy’s request had a built in date for being answered. The only question was the result.

With his usual flare for the dramatic, Jimmy shot up to the front of the room the second Prayer Request time was announced. “Yes, Jimmy, do you have something you want to report?”

“I sure do, Teacher! I was so scared, I thought I’d die. Of course, I had to study, didn’t I? I mean, God could’ve kilt me, if I didn’t, couldn’t He?”

“God does want us to obey Him, Jimmy; but how about you tell us what happened.”

“I’d forgotten all about the math test on Friday when I got home on Thursday. I turned on the television, flopped down against the sofa, and prepared to watch cartoons. I’d forgotten to get my snack from the kitchen first, so I got up and ran into the kitchen to get it. On my way back, I heard it; t’was the President’s voice! The President was giving a speech, right their when my cartoons were supposed to be showing. I turned from one channel to the next, but every single channel had the President giving his boring speech. Then, it happened to me. I was thinking, ‘hey, what’s that president doing on my television instead of my cartoons, anyway?’ It was like a big bolt of lightning hit me and I fell back against the sofa. The President! The President! I had to study, right now! Well, I grabbed my Math book, and told my mom not to bother me until the President stopped talking. Don’t even come get me for supper, unless the President is finished. I have to study for my math test. I locked my bedroom door, just to be sure I wasn’t stopped from studying.”

“Wow, Jimmy, how’d you do on the test?”

“Humph! How’d you think I’d do? I mean, God told me to study, right? I got an A! I ain’t never had an A on a test in my whole life!” Tears fill my eyes even now as I remember that marvelous day when Jimmy found out that God really did care about him and his prayers.

But, not everyone understood the importance of what the kids in our catechism class had been learning. Liz and I were in for a huge surprise.

*Name Changed

****Catechism: Testifying Hot Dogs…Next Post

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