We made our annual weekend getaway, leaving behind us the disparate legos wedged under the mattress and the temporary fingerprint stains on the windows beside our front door. Just the two of us and four days to read for hours, to pray — uninterrupted, to take long walks and long showers and breathe. A day into our trip when I’m unpacking a rolling bag for two (not multiple duffles for six), I begin to realize that the legos and fingerprints and their toothpaste that lines my bathroom sink is the least of what keeps me occupied.
“I sometimes have dreams that you sent me back to Africa,” she said, matter-of-fact, just days before we left. Pandora’s box had been opened by one almost-too-young to wrap herself around the layered healing of God.
“I don’t feel very pretty with these bumps all over my face,” she mentioned casually, almost as if just to herself, while examining her face, now just centimeters from the mirror.
“When I’m alone for just a little while, I feel all alone. I’m afraid to be alone,” she sobbed her own truths, in the midst of what I had first thought was a merely an attempt to avoid her rest time.
All these thoughts in one week. These, of course, are only the ones to which she gives voice. And what lingers near the surface of my thoughts as my personal, mommy-mountain to climb is so often that pile of laundry or another week of planning meals or the four sets of hands that need fingernails clipped. I point to these as my stressors, until I come up for air and realize it’s really the insecurity that’s revealed in the way she teases her brother and the stubbornness her sister demonstrates when asked to do a task, unexpectedly. And what about the child that still fears the night?
Meal-planning is easy compared to hearts that hang in the balance.
And it’s time to leave elementary things behind.
I have years of prayer lists filed away. Line-by-line, sometimes typed, names to lift up to Him. And that’s all it was, then: lifting a phrase a word up into some ethereal cloud as if it was a magical process of the right words, the right frequency, the right timing. When God is a distant leader, He manages me. And He “managed” my prayers too.
I never imagined what happened on the other side of putting a mental check next to that name. My duty was to say it. His was to … do the types of things He did, whatever those were. Prayer was a handshake. Then.
Fast forward past a decade of having old notions not only dissolve, but shatter, at the feet of circumstances which could not support them and prayer is now moving ever-so-slowly from a transactional exchange to a conversation.
So it goes with my girls (and my son).
I feel her shoulder shrug when she thinks I’m not looking. My chest gets tight when I consider the loneliness her young frame knows, in a family of six. I stumble over my words when she says she hates her skin.
Our little ones can’t be confined to a prayer list just like He can’t be confined to a corner office, managing the affairs too big for me and dictating orders over an intercom.
Enter tiny prayers. A phrase coined by another that I’ve since stolen.
My morning would be shot if I was to try to cover all their needs in one fell swoop — and my conversation would go from words-like-small breaths right back to a checklist; if I prayed for them as if the One to whom I was talking was distant.
But He’s not. He’s nearer to her acne than I am, waiting to tell her that she’s beautiful. He wants to interrupt the nightmares she calls dreams with the dream He has on His heart for her. And His presence is waiting to make those lonely moments be ones saturated with Him — even for her single-digit self.
So we toss the typed list of names in exchange for tiny prayers. Up the stairs to tuck her in and out to the mailbox. On the 10-minute drive to the gym and, yes, over the walk from the poolside chair cheering on their dives to the perch that holds all of our towels.
Prayers, tiny in length but miles-long in intimacy. The intimacy shared between friends. Because all those minutes were meant for conversation and the depths of our daughters’ needs are an invitation to talk.
The challenges of their hearts require a conversation, not just a list. Our girls’ hearts get won, minute-by-minute, as we talk to Him about them. And a lifestyle of prayer starts with one single minute.
Here’s a great tool to help with those minute-prayers.
How do I use it?
I print it and slide it into a plastic sleeve that travels with me: propped against the counter as I chop onions, atop my laundry pile, and on the book-holder at the gym. Sometimes I write this acronym out in my moleskine; the habit of writing those verses serving to etch them deeper into my heart.
I start with one letter and pray it during the not-yet-won minutes of my day, for each of my girls. Some (rare) days I get through all the verses while most others I spend the whole day on just one or two. I breathe out my request and inhale the reality that God is on the other end, loving that He got invited into the crazy conversation in my head. This is my conversation starter for the needs of her heart.
(And a note for the mother who is also a wife: Anyone else ever feel like you’ve started to see praying with your husband as a daunting “task”? I mean, what don’t we have to pray about together? A few years back we switched from expecting regular, long-hours of prayer together to these “tiny prayer” touch-points all throughout our day. There is a space and time for those long stretches but from Monday through Friday, we’re breathing prayer behind the laundry room door while little fingers slide their way under and over bathroom vanities while he brushes and I floss. For the list-maker like me, it’s the regular reminder that prayer is like breath: there is Life in the in and out, and on the other side.)