"How did you feel about growing up with a mother who prayed?"
I had just finished speaking to an audience of well-heeled professionals in Greenwich, Connecticut, and when the moderator opened the floor for questions, a woman quickly spoke up. But her question was not directed toward me. It was for my daughter, Virginia.
This was a first. My children rarely (never?) show up at my speaking gigs, but Virginia lives in New York City and had made the trip out. Never one to shy away from an honest question, she jumped up and grabbed hold of the mic.
"I didn’t like it," she said.
I held my breath. This could go any number of ways.
"For starters," Virginia said, "Mom was always praying that if we did anything wrong, we’d get caught. And we were always getting caught.
"And," she continued, "she wanted us to pray all the time. Like, if we were going to the mall, we’d pray about the pants or the dress we had to buy. And we’d ask God for a parking space. Or to give us energy if we were feeling tired.
"It all just felt like … a lot."
I could feel the crowd tensing up. I knew what they were thinking. They had been tracking with me during my talk (when I’d covered things like asking God to provide self-control in our children, protection for our teens, and help for our older kids as they battled addictions, marriage breakups, and other grown-up issues), but this was new ground.
Shopping trips? Parking places? Energy levels? Were those really the sort of details we should bug God about? Doesn’t he have more important things on his mind?
Happily, Virginia wasn’t quite finished.
"It seemed strange at the time," she said. "Looking back, though, I think it was really good for us to hear and to be part of prayers about everyday things. It made talking to God so much more real and relational rather than something we thought of as scary, complicated or just plain hard to do."
I exhaled, wiped a bead of sweat from my brow, and thanked Virginia for her candor.
Praying about the small stuff opens our eyes to the "ordinary" blessings God provides every day.
Later, though, I started to wonder, Is it OK to talk to God about life’s little stuff? One of my college professors had admonished me for "talking a lot but never saying anything." I didn’t want God to see me in the same light, as though my prayers made him think of a small yappy dog.
I know I’m not the only one who has harbored this reservation; truth be told, one of the main prayer obstacles I hear people voice is that they don’t want to bother God with their needs and concerns when he has big things like poverty, social justice and a pandemic to tackle. It feels selfish, they say, to focus on their own lives.
Not knowing what else to do, I took my question to God.
I know people "hear" him speak in myriad ways – through the counsel of others, the "coincidences" of circumstances, an "inner voice" that rings holy and true – but for me, the easiest and most reliable way I’ve found to get answers from God is to look in the Bible. And sure enough, here’s what I read:
The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.
Every detail. New pants or parking places, God loves it when we come to him with our every need!
Which, now that I have had time to think about it, has a certain kind of theological, even scientific, beauty.
Praying about the small stuff opens our eyes to the "ordinary" blessings God provides every day. And as we thank God for these things, acknowledging him as their source, the path to his presence becomes familiar and worn.
It’s like cows in cornfield. The first time a prayer goes through, it doesn’t leave much of a trace. But keep treading the same ground, and pretty soon the stalks begin to separate, the corn gets trampled, and the path becomes so easy that it might as well be a highway. (Or, if you prefer scientific lingo, a neural pathway, one made up of neurons and dendrites and other brain parts.)
And then, when the big things come along – the unwanted lab reports, the financial setback, the feeling of hopelessness when a child or a spouse makes a really poor choice – our feet, and our hearts, know the way. We can approach God with confidence, knowing that even if we stumble, he will not let us fall.
He’s directing our steps, holding our hands, and delighting in every detail of our lives.