My work as a pastor involves leading in a thoughtful, discerning and prophetic role. A significant aspect of my ministry is to invite folks into careful and critical thought, using our minds well to understand God’s revelation to us as fully as possible.
But recently I’ve begun to pray for Elmo. Well, not so much pray for Elmo as thank God for the great fun that Elmo is. Every evening before we begin our family meal, we pray together. Our barely two year old daughter has really taken to this practice, insisting that she hold hands with both mommy and daddy as we talk to our Heavenly Father. For several weeks we’ve been asking Gracie what she would like to pray for. ‘Elmo’ has become the standard answer. Along with Dora, Boots and George (that curious little monkey). Sometimes ‘Dada’ (her little brother, Caleb) makes the cut, and sometimes even Grandmas and Grandpas.
It’s been a long time since I’ve prayed for such silly things. My gut instinct is to invite my daughter into more ‘serious’ prayer: asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit and giving thanks that we can trust Jesus as the supreme ruler of all things.
And then I get stopped in my tracks with a request to pray for Elmo.
A couple of months back I had a young five year old friend show off a lovely picture she had drawn of a man walking through a field holding her hand. “That’s me and God!” she proudly declared. What is my immediate reaction? Is it to instruct her saying, “You can’t draw God! Don’t you know that we are instructed not to make a graven image of the Great Divine? To reduce the infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, and mysterious God to a stick figure is a travesty smacking of presumption and irreverence?” Perhaps I wouldn’t be so bold nor use such lofty language… but at least initially my mind jolts in that direction.
That would probably be the wrong approach. As this young girl grows up in faith it will be important for her to understand the fullness of God, who ought to be regarded with wonder and reverence. However, for a five year old, this drawing is a remarkable display of childlike faith. She is merely expressing how she is experiencing God, as a loving friend who is a listening, caring presence in her life. This must be celebrated and encouraged.
Or, what about the day that my daughter comes to me and tells me that she has asked Jesus into her heart as her personal Saviour? Do I dive into a treatise on how this expression of ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ is never actually found in Scripture and such a narrow depiction of the role of Jesus fails to see him as the great, cosmic King who has fully defeated evil and will restore all things in the new heavens and new earth? Of course not! And yet, this is the thinking that my seminary-trained heart and mind lunges toward. (But, I do insist this is an entirely appropriate discussion to have with the right people in the right setting!).
And then, I sit and listen to my little sweetheart ask that we pray for Elmo. I smile, reach for her hand, and with a heart full of gratitude thank God for our fine friend Elmo and all of the other simple delights that bring us joy and remind us of God’s gracious love.
In the midst of my pursuit of a mature, thoughtful and deeply rooted faith, God is reminding me to return to a childlike faith; one of simplicity, joy and deep gratitude. One that brings the immediate and ‘real-life’ thoughts of my heart to the Lord without hesitation. Just coming as I am, trusting that the He delights in the things that delight my heart.
Praying for Elmo…. I think this is going to be good for me!