This was my first prayer.
Dear God, thank you for all the wonderful things you have ever given us. Keep Mummy, Daddy, Emily, Kaila, Suzy, Eeyore Beth, and Lambie safe. Let us have no bad dreams, or anything like that. Let there be no arguments tonight, and let me not cry when Poppy dies. I love you with all my heart, Amen.
I prayed it for the first time when I was eight years old, because Sister Wilhelmina had told me I could ask God for anything, in my own words. I repeated it verbatim every night, until it became chant. I remember it as clearly today as the phone number I grew up with.
The words changed only a little across childhood. Petitions adapted to circumstance. I eventually stopped interceding for my little sister’s and my favorite dolls and stuffed animals. My grandfather died in the spring of that year. I didn’t cry, and I took that for mercy. I had sensed it was asking too much, too late, for the cancer to go away. Strength against the coming grief was the next best thing I could imagine. My dog Kaila died a few years later, and other pets came and went. So did my parents’ arguments–my father’s word for his late night tirades–and their absences were mercy, too, if not the same as peace.
By the time I was in my teens, I also asked, “forgive us for all our sins, and help us to forgive others” (I always prayed in first person plural-it seemed like it was asking an awful lot for just one person). Sister Wilhelmina didn’t teach me the “five elements of prayer,” but they all made their way in there somehow: thanksgiving, intersession, petition, adoration, confession. I understand some of these things a lot differently now than when I was a child, but as prayers go, I could do worse–often do worse–than to be thankful, ask for deliverance from my fears and grace to face them, expect mercy, beg pardon, and love with all my heart.