Bette, age 5
My earliest childhood prayer went like this:
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mama and Daddy, God bless Bud, God bless Mimi and Da, God bless Uncle Ponk and Aunt Vera, God bless Uncle Dub and Aunt Pearl, and God bless Uncle Mike.”
I asked God to bless every relative of Mama and Daddy’s that I could remember, their brothers and his sisters, their spouses and all their children. I added names as time went on, when Mike married Frances, and babies were born to one or another family. No doubt I missed a few cousins now and then.
Once in a while I would tag on somebody not a relative, like my school teacher or Sunday School teacher, or friend. At the end of the prayer, I was always careful to add “In Jesus’s name, Amen.”
Confident that everybody I loved was covered with God’s protection for the night, I pulled my doll babies closer and fell asleep.
Even now I can clearly visualize my bedroom and my bed, myself snuggled up under the covers with five or six dolls surrounding me as I closed my eyes and spoke to God at bedtime. I was in kindergarten at the time of that mini-vision, but I had prayed that same bedtime prayer many, many evenings before that.
When did I stop praying those precious, repetitive words?
Perhaps it was after the day I heard the Lord whisper to me in a small quiet voice, and I realized that he was actually listening to my thoughts and prayers. And I knew somehow that I could just talk to him, I didn’t have to use memorized, rote prayers! How neat.
He didn’t speak that day in answer to a prayer, actually. He had spoken in the middle of my first grade classroom as I was admiring my teacher. He said, “One day YOU will be a teacher.” That was it.
That was all he’d said to me then but I knew it was God. I had no question or fear or doubt or anything, just some surprise that he considered me important enough to speak to, in the middle of a school day, in the middle of a school room. Me!
I didn’t really expect God to talk to me again; I didn’t even ask him to talk to me again for many years. I just accepted it as a one-off, something he wanted me to know just because I loved my teacher, and because he loved me.
And then I sort of forgot it. Yep.
As the school years passed by one by one, none of my plans included becoming a teacher. Nuclear or space physicist, that was my plan. That was what I studied all the math and science for, took all the advanced testing for, planned to enter college for.
My family faithfully attended church where as a young teen once again I greatly admired a teacher: my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Mellie Sue Hewitt, always smiling, soft spoken and kindhearted. She was also quite knowledgeable in the scriptures. In her classes the Old Testament came alive, relevant, and important.
Prayer was a given in her classes, and they didn’t consist of repetitive phrases and sentences. They were more like chatting with a close, personal friend. Along with amazing stories of dynamic Bible characters like Abraham, Moses and Joshua, I learned that the God they knew, and that she knew, appreciated ordinary conversational prayer.
Then Daddy died suddenly of a heart attack, May 14, 1960. I was 16 years old. My mother couldn’t cope. She fell apart, turned away from church, away from her faith, and turned to substances for “support.” Drugs and alcohol.
After that, church wasn’t a real priority for me either. Mama had dropped out, so I dropped out. While most of my friends went away to college, I was enrolled at USC-Florence here at home. Mama drove me back and forth. We didn’t talk much.
If you have read any of my other stories, biographical stuff, you probably know that my plans got majorly derailed during my first year of college. My grades were excellent, I had no problems in class, but life-shaking problems at home finally got the best of me.
My alcoholic mother and I simply could not get along. I dropped out of college to marry the man who I thought would take me away from all my problems. He didn’t. It turned out that he, like Mama, was an alcoholic.
I began practicing the art of conversational prayer, and I mean practice. Practice. Practice. Prayer lists. Notebooks. Little sticky notes on my desk, in my Bible, everywhere. Most consisted of “Please help me” type requests. Help me get through today. Help me get through the week! Help me pay the bills.
Help me not fall apart, like Mama did. They were all one-way but despite my having dropped out, I knew, I just knew, that He never had.
A lot happened in the next few years. I’ve written about some of it. I bought a number of books about prayer, how to pray, intercessory prayer, having a prayer life. I read and underlined, wrote notes in the margins. My prayer lists grew. My notebooks got filled, post-it notes proliferated on computer, mirrors, Bibles and books.
And along the way, I discovered something amazing. Prayer isn’t always one-way only.