A Small Child’s Prayer

If you have children of your own you know that they often become attached to a specific object or toy that, for a time, they prefer over all others. Our youngest daughter, who will turn three in August, has laid claim to a specific fork. I think that the reason why she likes this particular fork is that its tines are shorter than those of the rest of the forks. She calls it “my little fork” and her attachment to it at mealtimes is sometimes remotely reminiscent of Tolkien’s Gollum and his “precious.”

Of course, the mere fact that our youngest values a certain object above others sudden elevates its value in the eyes of our eldest daughter, who will be five in July, even if it was previously considered worthless.

Saturday morning I made pancakes for breakfast. Thinking ahead, our eldest daughter subtly retrieved the “little fork” and obscured it partially under the rim of her plate while she waited for the pancakes to finish. Of course, her sister doesn’t typically give so much forethought to things. She usually doesn’t think about her “little fork” until the food is already on the plate and she wants to begin to eat.

I placed a pancake on each of their plates. Almost like one of Pavlov’s dogs, the youngest realized that she needed the fork and asked for it. When I couldn’t find it either in the drawer, the dishwasher, or the sink, I told her so and explained that she was just going to have to settle for another fork for now. It was at that very moment that she noticed that her sister had the fork, semi-concealed at the edge of her dish. There was a brief argument.

Even though she had the fork first, I figured that the only reason our five-year old even cared about it at all was that her sister always valued it so much. So I insisted that she give the fork to her younger sibling and use a different one. She was upset, but complied.

We try to say a prayer of thanks at each meal. Usually, the eldest is keen to offer the prayer, but sulking over the fork as she was, she declined the invitation. Happy to have her precious “little fork”, the two-year old was more than happy to pray in her stead.

When our children pray, we encourage them to express their own thoughts and feelings to God. However, we sometimes prompt them to remember to give thanks for our food and we sometimes prompt them to pray that we will learn to be more kind to one another and not fight or argue.

So as our youngest daughter offered the prayer in thanks for the food, her sister, imitating the pattern established by her parents, inclined her head toward her sister and loudly whispered, “And please bless that you will give me your little fork.”

My first inclination was to interrupt the prayer and tell our eldest that what she had done was inappropriate, but I held my tongue.

I expected our little prayer-giver to abandon her prayer to remonstrate angrily at her sister’s suggestion. Instead, she finished the prayer in her cute, sincere little voice: “And please bless that I will give my little fork to my sister. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

Upon finishing her prayer, she immediately picked up her precious little fork, smiled and handed it to her sister. Not a word about the precious fork was raised for the rest of the meal.

It is easy to forget that when we pray for something, it can mean that someone else may have to give up what they want so that our prayer can be granted.

However, I believe we can and should ask the Lord for the things that we need, and I believe that he answers our prayers according to his godly wisdom and love. At the same time, another object of our prayers should be to conform our own will and desires to those of God.

Prayer should be above all a process of bending our will to that of God, not the other way around.

Ronald Reagan once said: “Education is not the means of showing people how to get what they want. Education is an exercise by means of which enough men, it is hoped, will learn to want what is worth having.”

I believe that prayer can be the ultimate one-on-one educational process under the Greatest Teacher of all. Through it he can change our hearts if we will let him.

I need to submit myself to that school more often and more sincerely.

A couple of applicable quotes:

Allas, why pleynen folk so in commune
On purveiaunce of God, or of Fortune,
That yeveth hem ful ofte in many a gyse
Wel bettre than they kan hemself devyse?
Som man desireth for to han richesse,
That cause is of his mordre or greet siknesse;
And som man wolde out of his prisoun fayn,
That in his hous is of his meynee slayn.
Infinite harmes been in this mateere.
We witen nat what thing we preyen heere.

*Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Knight’s Tale, lines 1251-1260

To prayer, repentance, and obedience due,
Though but endeavored with sincere intent,
Mine ear shall not be slow, mine eye not shut.
And I will place within him as a guide,
My umpire Conscience; whom if they will hear,
Light after light well used they shall attain,
And to the end persisting, safe arrive.
This my long sufferance, and my day of grace,
They who neglect and scorn shall never taste;
But hard be hardened, blind be blinded more,
That they may stumble on, and deeper fall;

*John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book III, Lines 191-201

And a few related scriptures:

Matthew, Chapter 18, Verses 1 – 3
Mosiah, Chapter 3, Verse 19

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5 Responses to A Small Child’s Prayer

  1. A couple of years ago a very young nephew was with our family as we sat around a restaurant table. He had a spoon in his hand and my wife moved to remove the spoon from his hand. He had grasped it rather firmly and she had to pull it with a bit of force to get it from him, which to him probably felt like a rebuke of some sort. His response was to slam both open hands on the table while looking at her very crossly and to say “NO” in a loud voice. I was amazed at the force of that “NO” and the look in his eye. He was hardly of an age to even talk, never mind to express so much personal will in such a serious fashion. He wanted that spoon back!

  2. Thank you for sharing – what a beautiful story… and adorable girls. I love how our babies teach us to be better. Love the lessson.

  3. Wonderful story. It is so funny how they do become attached to funny things. My oldest son became attached to a small pair of scissors that was shaped like a bird. He called them “peep peep” and would not sleep without his “peep peep”…now that was just weird.

  4. Wonderful observations on the true purpose of prayer.

    The pattern of older children wanting some previously worthless item simply because it is now valued by a younger sibling has been a constantly repeating pattern in my home since my second child was born 13 years ago. I almost always ensure that the youger child gets the disputed item for three reasons: 1) as you said, the older child only wanted the thing out of a kind of jealousy, 2) the older child is more mature and can understand the need to sacrifice a little more easily, and 3) the younger child’s defense mechanism is often a tantrum (akin to terrorist tactics) that no amount of reason can overcome, while the older child has usually developed more socially acceptable defense mechanisms. I usually make exceptions for personally owned items that are of intrinsic value to the older sibling in an effort to protect the item and to teach respect for personal property.

  5. Thanks you all for your comments.

    Danithew: Sounds like something I might have done as a child.

    Stephanie: Thanks! Becoming a parent sure is an education beyond anything I ever experienced in college! And Thank goodness!

    Peggy: Glad to see that you are still reading now and then. It does sound weird, but I think experience shows that it is pretty standard behavior. (Now that I think about it, scissors are a little bird-like!)

    Reach: Thanks for your observations. I am acquainted with a psychologist who once told me that there are some studies that show that it is important to teach children about ownership and property. Apparently some parents emphasize “sharing” to the point where ownership becomes meaningless and their children develop a warped sense of ownership and personal property. Such children can more easily become involved in theft, vandalism, (and the forcible redistribution of wealth 😉 ) as a result.

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