When my oldest was younger, we used to read a Berenstain Bears book about prayer. While the books about these anthropomorphic bears are designed to be simple lessons for kids, the particular angles in this book struck me deeply. The take on prayer was nuanced and mature.
In the book The Berenstain Bears Say Their Prayers, Brother Bear is on the same baseball team with his devout cousin, Fred. When they face a particularly tough team with an intimidating player, Fred prays before he pitches to a hitter they refer to only as “The Beast.” To Brother’s astonishment, Fred strikes out The Beast. When brother inquires as to how he did it, Fred talks about his pre-pitch prayer. Brother tries to imitate Fred when he is up as hitter, and prays for a hit. Unfortunately for Brother, and as a blow to his faith, he strikes out. After the incident, he talks again with Fred about prayer. Fred asks what he prayed for, and Brother tells him his supplication was for a hit. When Brother asked Fred what he prayed for he reveals that he simply prayed not to be scared.
It’s hard to know what providence has in store and I suspect Cousin Fred is onto something. If we pray for something very specific, we are taking a chance in praying for something God doesn’t have planned for us. I believe in the power of prayer to move the heart of God. I also believe that God has a plan for our lives and that our prayers should be in alignment with His will for us. That can be hard to know, so sometimes prayers of supplication are just for strength to keep going in order to see what God has set in front of us next.
Fast forward a few years. My son is growing up, working diligently on school projects and just went to his first rock show at a club. He doesn’t read Berenstain Bears anymore. In point of fact, sadly, he doesn’t read any books. Perhaps more disappointing, he doesn’t seem to have internalized the lessons on prayer taught in Sunday school, confirmation class or by the anthropomorphic bears. It can be hard to get him to pray, even when he’s struggling. I wish that he could remember Cousin Fred and his example of prayer to know that it can be effective by putting us in touch with a loving God who wants us to live into the challenges set before us.