catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 5 :: 2004.02.27 — 2004.03.11


The three-second prayer

My 11-year-old brother-in-law, Rick, prayed on Sunday before lunch. He set the dinner roll he was buttering on his plate, folded his hands neatly, bowed his head in reverence, and proceeded to fire off about three seconds of undecipherable language at a speed I’ve only heard from a tape deck in fast forward. His prayer sounded more like ancient Hebrew than English, although I’ll admit I did hear the words “God” and “food” in there somewhere. Thankfully I caught most of his prayer when his sister, Heidi, piped up from across the table and in perfect monk-like monotone uttered the words, “God is great. God is good. Lord, I thank You for this food. By His hands we all are fed. Thank you, Lord, for daily bread. Amen.”

I don’t doubt for a minute that thousands of other kids across the country like Rick are rattling off prayers as fast as they can like they’re trying to win a contest. I remember rambling through my own prayers as a kid. And for some reason, my parents let me do it. There must be some bit of wisdom from the parent handbook that explains why moms and dads allow their kids to keep butchering prayers.

This morning I was reading Paul’s letter to Titus, and I ran across something that just might justify prayer butchering. The passage I read mentioned that curious word discipline. Paul writes in chapter 1:8 that a Christian must be “hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” I don’t think Paul is talking about spanking here. He’s talking about discipline in the way the Benedictine monks did in Italy during the first century after Christ. Their lives reflected the word discipline as it meant an inner strength from God that enabled them to control their desires and actions. These godly men found the best way to be disciplined was to have good habits. They ordered their lives so activities like meditation, psalm reading, singing, and prayer were scheduled into every day. Good habits, like saying a prayer before every meal, are worthwhile. Of course we’re going to have our days, months, even years at worst when we continue in our habits without thinking or appreciating their value. But that’s exactly the reason for habits. It’s why St. Benedict wrote an entire book about how his monks were to live from day to day. Forming good habits is a way of keeping ourselves in check. When our habits become empty and thoughtless, we wonder why we even take the time to do them. That’s when, hopefully, we come to the realization that we’re in need of renewal.

I imagine Rick put about as much thought into his prayer on Sunday as I did this morning when I brushed my teeth, and I wish it wasn’t that way. But, nonetheless, I’m thankful his parents make him pray. Today they raise their voices and rattle the silverware just to make him pray because they hope that years down the road, when he’s on his own, he’ll have good habits to keep him in check. That’s the secret: good habits are good discipline.

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