A catechist asked her class of young children to write short prayers about anything for which they wanted to pray. As she walked around the room observing their work, she noticed one young girl writing the alphabet over and over again. The catechist asked, “Nicole, what are you doing?” Nicole responded, “I’m writing my prayer, but I couldn’t think of what I wanted to say. So I’m just writing all of the letters of the alphabet, and God can put them together however he thinks best.
I came across this humorous anecdote in the final pages of A Well-Built Faith by Joe Paprocki. This section of his book is about prayer.
At first I was amused by the story, but soon it occurred to me that Nicole’s prayer is authentic. Sometimes we cannot put into words what we want to say to God, yet God understands. He is pleased with our efforts. He is pleased when we entrust ourselves to him. Responding to God’s grace, little Nicole did just that.
Recently I asked some friends and family, “What are your earliest memories of praying?” My twenty-eight year old nephew said:
My first memory of prayer was laying on blades of soft grass in my parents backyard on a cool sunny summer day gazing up at the blue sky scattered with puffs of cloud through the sparkling green leaves of the trees. Then I remembered and knew the beauty and love of the Creator and His Creation.
His words reminded me that the world of nature is like Scripture, a revelation of God. Thinking about its beauty often evokes a sense of wonder and awe, a form of contemplative prayer.
My sister also responded to my question. She said:
I remember memorizing prayers at St Edward School, especially “Hail Holy Queen.” But, my favorite prayer that I say several times a day is the Jesus prayer: “Oh Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
St. Teresa of Ávila, a Carmelite mystic and doctor of the Church stresses the importance of self-knowledge in prayer. Self-knowledge means recognizing that we are sinners touched by God’s mercy. We approach God in prayer with humility.