Life lessons. We were out of town visiting family as the adults talked and Zechariah and his cousin played in the other room. I stood in the kitchen, attempting to engage in grown-up conversation, when my son tried impatiently to get my attention and interrupt on numerous occasions. I admit – I was irritated. And was ignoring all the warning signs that an attempt for negative attention (which we know for kids is better than no attention) would soon be here.
The dishwasher was open at the time and somehow he walked into it. From there, a new level of drama began. From the performance that ensued, you would have thought it had torn his leg off. But really, I had seen from the corner of my eye that the leg and dishwasher door barely touched one another. In tears, he came over to me for the comfort he was accustomed to. But quite honestly, I was still irritated that I couldn’t finish my conversation and now dually frustrated by the behavior. Rather than adding fuel to an already burning fire though, I wrapped my arm around him, emotionlessly said “God, please heal up Zechariah’s leg and make it better,” then quickly sent him on his way. He left the room with his head hung low and new tears fresh in his eyes.
Two days after we had returned home from our trip, Zechariah asked me if I remembered the incident in the kitchen when he had “hurt” his leg. I had not thought about it again, but recalled the scenario as he spoke. He asked if it was a “real prayer” I had prayed for him at the time. His face became downcast once again as he proceeded to tell me that it didn’t seem like I had really meant it.
My heart was suddenly overwhelmed by an awkward conviction. He was right. It wasn’t a real prayer. It was mindless words I spoke to the air in attempt to go through the motions of what he expected me to say. I justified my actions because outwardly I said the right thing; but I didn’t mean them. And I certainly wasn’t focusing on God when I spoke.
Images of similar instances began racing through my thoughts: mealtime, bedtime, church services… how many other times have I been guilty of saying the words without really engaging with God in the process?
God doesn’t want our words. He wants our heart. He doesn’t want our rituals. He wants true engagement. Every time.
Maybe this encounter in a kitchen was simply a lesson for me to become more aware of the greater need for sincerity within when I’m engaging in prayer. But perhaps I’m not the only one challenged by the question posed. Are our words to God “real prayers” every time? Or are they sometimes ritualistic platitudes void of true communion or thought? One brings forth life and deeper relationship with God. I envision the other ushering in a response similar to my son’s when he solemnly walked out of the kitchen with his head hung low. Zechariah knew I wasn’t genuine, but so did God. In matters big or small, I don’t want to make that mistake again. I want heartfelt connection with the Creator. And I’m grateful for the conviction brought forth by a little boy’s drama which stirred up that desire once again.