"You, mother, father! Teach your children how to pray," admonished Pope Francis in his weekly catechesis on the family in Vatican City. By finding time to pray, we "give time back to God," rediscover "peace in the important things," and "discover the joy in unexpected gifts."
I sincerely believe that praying is a direct line to God and that He wants to hear from us. But, let's be honest — sometimes my prayers get a little stale. The same cannot be said for my four daughters, who have taught me how to pray from the heart with their sincere, albeit slightly off-topic prayers. Here are the top seven prayers that my girls have said … and have taught me a lot about praying in the process.
"Please bless that I can save people ... because I'm a spy." Maia, age 3
This prayer occurred after hours of playing "spy" with her brother, Jacob. I first thought that she had the heart of a saint in her desire to save people from sin by proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel. But, instead, she was having a hard time drawing the line between fact and fantasy.
What I learned: Our desires should be selfless, regardless of what our reality looks like.
"Please bless that we will be nice ... and won't tie up our families in the living room." Jenny, age 3__
Again, I thought this prayer was very sweet until it derailed in the middle of the sentence. This prayer occurred after my husband and I inadvertently let Jenny watch an action flick that was obviously too mature for her. But rather than complain, she internalized it and prayed that it would never happen to us.
What I learned: If you're worried about something, pray about it. Any worry is meaningful to God.
"Please bless that we can have fun at Disneyland and Seaworld." Hailey, age 3
This prayer is not hilarious in and of itself — the comedy came after listening to the same prayer for 365 days of the year. That's right — Hailey prayed every single day that we would go to Disneyland. And after about nine months of waiting, we went.
"Please bless that we will be safe and funny." Hailey, age 4
This, to me, was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hailey prayed for about a year that we'd be safe and funny. I'm not sure whether I was given much "funny," but I was safe and she was certainly funny enough for the both of us.
What I learned: Pray for the inner qualities you desire.
"Please bless that we'll close our eyes during the prayer, Hailey." Lizzy, age 8
As the second oldest sister and resident boss of the "little kids," Lizzy is mature beyond her years. It's not often that our house is quiet and everyone is listening to one person. The one exception is prayer time. So Lizzy took the opportunity to educate her sister about prayer ... during the prayer. The result? Hailey closed her eyes.
What I learned: Timing is everything.
"Please bless that when it's one person's turn to say the prayer, the other person doesn't say it." Jenny, age 7
Following her sister's lead, Jenny took the opportunity to educate her little sister, Hailey, about prayer etiquette. But rather than taking a direct approach, she opted for something more subtle. She hoped that Hailey would learn from Jenny's wisdom and understand that the "other person" was, indeed, Hailey. The result? Hailey kept interrupting Jenny's prayer with a prayer of her own.
What I learned: Be direct.
"How are you doing? Are you having a good day?" Lizzy, age 6
This prayer made me laugh at first. How sweet (and worthy of a chuckle) to ask God how His day was going. Wasn't He beyond having a bad day, after all? But the more I reflected on this simple prayer, the more I realized that this is something I need to do in my own worship. I need to remember that God is real, that I can talk with Him, and that He can actually communicate with me.
What I learned: Prayer is a conversation. Remember there's someone on the other end of the line.
My daughters' top seven prayers may have elicited some laughter, but they convey fundamental truths about prayer that have changed my perspective. If my prayers are focused on selfless desires; if they are heartfelt, persistent, sincere, relevant, and direct; and if they are spoken with the desire to receive answers, then they will be more meaningful and yield the peace, happiness and communion we all seek.
Dr. Amy Osmond Cook received her Ph.D. from the University of Utah in Communication. She is Dir. of Provider Relations at North American Health Care and taught writing, communication, and marketing classes at ASU, BYU, and Univ of Utah.