As we learn to acknowledge God’s presence in every activity, we see opportunities we would otherwise miss and assistance we would forget to thank God for. – Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens
I am 3 or 4. Attending church with my grandparents in Michigan.
Our church in Salt Lake is large and concrete. The sanctuary doesn’t have any windows. The carpet is a plush burgandy. Not that I ever have to spend much time in the big sanctuary. On Sunday’s, I have a class I go to. We sing, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The teachers encourage us to stand when we sing a color that we are wearing. It’s fun.
At my grandparents church, there is a lot of standing and sitting. I know this, because there is no children’s church. I sit in the wooden pews next to my adults. Standing a beat after them. Sitting a beat after them.
I scribble on cards a while. I begin to ask a question, but the adults shush. I squirm.
Grandma asks if I can wiggle my toes. My black patent leather shoes reveal my white socks, but no toes. I wiggle them. I cannot see them. But, I can feel they are wiggling. Yes! I nod triumphant.
Grandma is not watching. I tug her sleeve and point to my feet. She smiles.
The sanctuary is bathed in gold light. A man in a robe stands up front. He talks and talks.
Suddenly, everyone stands and begins to talk at once. All saying the same words. My grandparents and parents, too. I scramble up. I repeat, just a beat after them.
“Hallowed be thy name.”
Hmm, what is a hallowed?
I stop repeating, wondering. I tug my grandma’s sleeve. She puts her fingers to her lips. More “thy” and “thee.”
“You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” Psalm 16:11
Fast forward about 12 years. I am in my teens. Summer camp. Long, late services. The sun has gone down.
Music and commands from the stage: dance in the Spirit! If you have the gift of tongues, lift it up! Laugh now!
I feel alternately exhilarated and bored. Trying to hold my body “right” to “receive” a gift from the Spirit. Maybe I’m doing it “wrong” …because I’m not sure the Spirit has imparted a gift.
“Come forward for prayer!” is called from the stage.
I move up. My skin is hot. I can almost see myself. A strange sensation. There are many other teenagers here. We try not to touch each other. But, it’s basically impossible. My arm touches someone else’s, sticky, and awkward.
I am five or six people back from the stage. We played against that girl in volleyball this afternoon. I saw that boy holding hands with someone yesterday. I close my eyes. Someone is wearing a fruity perfume
Still, no feeling except awkward embarrassment. Uncertainty. Are we all trying to manufacture something?
A woman stands behind me. She begins praying. How did she know? She answers questions I whispered to myself through tears in my room months ago. Goosebumps on my arms. She continues to talk. Now the words to the song playing. The goosebumps retreat. It is no longer an answer to my months-ago prayer. But that first part?
No human could have just said that. It was too specific.
Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10
Eighteen years, three children later. The middle one, he doesn’t seem like he listens. I try to talk and he spins a fidget spinner. It’s buzzing is so loud I can’t hear myself.
“Stop that!” I snatch it from the table where it reverberates. I try again, “I saw a sign in the Sunday School room at church. It was talking about prayer – it said something about: being grateful, asking and there were two other things. Do you guys remember?”
“No, mom.” He responds. He’s now fiddling with Legos. He flips the bright red Lego airplane and catches it. “That must have been another class.”
I grit my teeth. It is so hard to hold onto patience at the end of the day. I bite back a terse order about the Legos.
I can barely see his face under the too-big red baseball cap. “Pastor Scott told us about God’s most holy prayer, though. We’re workin’ on memorizin’ it.”
A nudge in my spirit. This is the third or fourth time he’s mentioned something about this talk. Earlier it was – “did you know, if you were to say everything in the perfect prayer, it would be a huge book – bigger than the whole Bible, prol’ly?”
He is clearly impressed.
I still don’t really understand the prayer. No matter what translation I try to recite it in, I freely mix “Thy” with “Your” and “trespasses” with “sin.” I can almost feel the scratchy lace collar I wore to church as a little girl – the bewildered confusion – or the racing hormones I carried as a teen – the presumptuous judgment.
I understand, though, that prayer is more than, “Dear God, You’re up there, fill-in-the-blank request, thanks for fill-in-the-blank, amen.”
I have heard people talk about their “prayer closet.” Or walking around literally anointing things with oil. Or seen those people praying in a big group at Depot Park, usually with political signs. None of it seems quite right.
My mind drifts back a podcast , video and sermon from this fall. Heaven – the kingdom of God – is not so much a “place” as a “reign.” It’s not so much “up there” as it is Jesus’ people spreading Jesus’ love, submitting to God’s perfect will right here right now.
The words to a song we sometimes sing in church begin, “come set your rule and reign, in our hearts again.” As Jesus told the Pharisees so long ago: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” of “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21).
“It’s a really good prayer, buddy.” I say. The tension releases from my neck – air from a balloon.
“Let’s pray now so we can get you to bed.”
A few hours later, I realize that moment was an answered prayer. Jesus gave me the extra patience I needed in that moment. It’s a far cry from the mountain-moving, sea-parting, insta-healing I expected when I was 15…but it’s exactly what Noah and I needed at 7:48 p.m. Thursday night in 2020. It may have been quiet, but that patience He provided was just as supernatural.
The kingdom of God was right here, in my right now, talking to my son.