Learning to pray like a child again

Children pray in a grotto traditionally believed to be the place where Mary nursed Jesus in Bethlehem. (CNS photo from Reuters)

Reflection on their experience visiting the chapel daily, some of my first graders wrote:

  • “When I visit the King, I feel that Jesus is speaking to me. He says to me, ‘You are a child of God.’”
  • “When I visit the King, I feel calm. I like to pray the St. Michael prayer. Jesus says to me, ‘I love you.’”
  • “When I visit the King, I feel loved.”
  • “When I visit the King, I feel calm. I like to pray a Hail Mary. Jesus says to me, ‘You are my son, and you are good.’”
  • “When I visit the King, I feel like my heart is clean because I can pray to God in person.”
  • “When I visit the King, I feel happy because Jesus is surrounding me with love.”

Out of the mouths of babes. What struck me reading their reflections was that, for almost all the children, the focus was on God’s love for them and on their identity as His son or daughter. In many ways, their prayer was so simple. It was not complicated with worries and anxieties, as our prayer often is as adults. When these young children come before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, they know that they are loved, and that is enough to satisfy their hearts.

What does it sound like when you go to pray? Much as I want it not to, I know that for myself, it often sounds like a cacophony of worries. I asked myself recently, how much am I praying in the morning and how much am I just brooding over my problems? There is a big difference between bringing your concerns to the Lord and just thinking about them over and over without ever really giving them to Him. In the first instance, the Lord helps you carry your cross; in the latter, you drag it around yourself and miss this chance for the suffering to become redemptive and to unite you with Him. In the first case, His love enters into your problems; in the latter, charity can disappear as you see the other people involved as problems rather than as beloved children of God.

How different it would be if we were to “acquire the heart of a child” yet again (see Matthew 18:3)! If we quieted ourselves to hear again the Lord’s “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12), saying to us, “I love you. You are my child. You are good”— would this not transform our lives?

Perhaps it would be hard for some of us to believe those words even if we were to hear them. We might quickly list off our mistakes and sins and failures. But none of those things, not even the worst of sins, can negate the fact that God made us good and that His love is holding us in existence even in this moment. He desires to repair our relationship with Him as His sons and daughters, to clothe us again with His robe as He did the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-22), to restore us to His likeness and revive us in the goodness in which He first created us. He will wash us clean through the sacrament of confession and renew us in His love. This Lent, may we let Him restore in us “the heart of a child,” who is deeply confident of the Father’s infinite love!

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.


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