A milestone birthday inspires one to reflect.
Today is my birthday. It’s one of those milestones that end in 5. Why, yes, thank you for the good wishes. I need them.
I have lots to ponder today, but for the purposes of Bell Tower Prayer, I’m thinking about my first prayer.
Oh, sure, I suppose my first prayer was one taught me by my parents. Our family table grace was “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blest.” And as I’ve mentioned in this space before, the bedtime prayer my parents taught me was “Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my soul to keep/If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
But these rote, rhyming poems were not my first organic prayer. My first organic prayer was a soulful petition to the Almighty: “God, please don’t let me barf.”
The year was 1975. I attended a parochial school in Fairmont, Minnesota. In third grade, we learned about the order of the planets circling the sun and how to write cursive. And I Iearned how God answers prayer.
Being a parochial school, lunch was not subsidized by the government. Therefore, every morsel was valuable, and little children like me were required to eat a little of everything and taught to clean their plates.
These are reasonable lessons from my adult perspective. But they were a little tougher to swallow as a third-grader.
One time, a kid named Greg was forced to eat his green beans. Greg did not like green beans, and he did not like being forced to eat them. He puked his green beans all over his divided Melmac lunch tray, and I recall an adult gingerly carrying this tray—dripping over the edges with Greg’s half-digested green beans—across the lunchroom to the garbage. It was one of those traumatic experiences that sear your memory bank.
Thereafter, I lived in fear of puking at lunch, and I remember praying every day, “Dear God, please don’t let me barf at lunch today.”
Most of the time, the food was decent enough to consume, so this wasn’t a valid concern. But once every week or two, the brilliant cooks made a horrible concoction that sent shudders down my spine: a slice of white bread, topped with a scoop of instant potatoes and smothered with hamburger gravy (in some Midwestern quarters, this is known as a hot beef commercial). Each thing by itself wasn’t horrible (although mass produced hamburger gravy is not exactly a delicacy in a school lunch room or anywhere else). It was the combination—gravy over bread—that made my skin crawl.
No dish is more gross than wet bread. Even today, some forty-five years later, I hate wet bread, and I gag if ever I have to handle it while clearing dishes.
I was required to accept at least a little of this unholy creation on my tray even though I wanted no part of it. Eventually, I talked the cook down to a half a slice of bread, a tiny scoop of potatoes and no gravy.
But here’s the thing. I never puked at lunch. God’s answer to my prayer: “Sure. I grant this entreaty.”
I expect many childhood prayers are requests like this one. I remember another granted request in third grade. At the end of the school year, alerted by my parents to my imminent move five hours north, my third-grade teacher planned a going away party for me. I still have the homemade construction paper card wishing me well and signed by all my classmates. The highlight of the party was supposed to be an extra few minutes of recess. Only I hated recess.
Maybe I was a weird child, I can’t say.
On the day of my party, I remember running down the hallway to doorway to the playground and seeing rain pouring out of the sky. I was so happy!
God granted my wish for no recess.
As an adult, I’ve adjusted my petitions to include “thy will be done.” I still ask for things, but I accommodate God’s infinite and wise perspective that maybe his way would be better. This has the added benefit of giving me firm faith in God’s promises to answer prayer. I always get an answer, just sometimes it’s not the answer for which I asked.
If you’re looking for a reminder to pray every day and a little inspiration, check out my subscription for a daily prayer sent right to your InBox—click here. Fortunately, my prayers nowadays are a little more nuanced than “please don’t let me barf at lunch.”