For the last couple of months, I have been teaching confirmation classes on Sunday evenings. We have a bright group of inquisitive students, interested in learning about God and faithful to be there for the discussions. As with all my classes, I try to be open and honest and give plenty of room for questioning and wondering because I believe that we learn as much from structed lessons as unstructured.
I also believe there are moments when students, no matter how hard they try, remind us of the fact that they are at heart, still kids. Case in point, this past Sunday, we had some boys who just lost it over something they found funny and could not stop laughing. Even during the prayer, they were still fighting-with little to no success-to keep from laughing. I finished the prayer and said something very quick about trying to control the laughing during prayer and dismissed the group.
Some people may have made a big deal out of the kids laughing during a prayer. For some people, prayers must be holy, sanctified, dignified moments of personal address to God. I don’t know that that’s always the case. You should be respectful of others for sure. But I think about moments of frustration in prayer for people like Moses talking to God on Mount Sinai or Job talking to God in his misery. I think about Sarah laughing at God for saying she would have a child in her nineties. I think about Elijah sitting terrified in a cave on a mountainside praying out of his fear. I think David dancing naked through the temple, embarrassing his wife and distressing the priesthood.
When Paul talked about the Fruit of the Spirit, one of things he talked about was joy. The word for joy means, to be delighted in something. The idea here is have great pleasure in something. There are many ways to express delight, sometimes as a sense of peace in difficulty, sometimes as a sense of happiness in the moment, and I think sometimes as the honest laughter of boys who have been cooped up in a classroom for too long with a guy who finds history and theology way more exciting that most people.
Conversation with God, or prayer, is something born out a relationship with God and in response to our life situation. When we are happy or content, I’m sure we pray happy, contented prayers. When we are miserable and despondent, I think we pray miserable, despondent prayers. And when were 11-12-year-old boys who are cracking up over something silly, I think we pray laughing prayers that God is just as happy with as with the other prayers. Not because there is a special formula and it fits but because we are special to God and connecting with God, no matter our mood or circumstance and that fits. The issue is simply coming before God in an honest way that doesn’t avoid the reality of our lives.
So, be honest with God. Pray not only without ceasing, but also without pretending.