Naman, Siri, and What My Daughter’s Questions Are Teaching Me About Prayer
I often refer to my oldest daughter, Eiley, as my “tiny theologian.” Her eagerness to learn is evident in her incessant inquiry. Recently, I noticed my tendency to respond to her questions in nearly a programmatic manner: “Wow, Eiley! That is a really great question. I’ll have to think about that.” The problem is, I rarely have such “thinking time,” and I often forget to circle back and offer her answers.
I want to change that. Having an easily-accessible answer to all of Eiley’s questions, from “What are we having for dinner?” to “Can God understand my sister’s prayer when we don’t know what she is saying?” isn’t just my aim. I want my children to be heard and to know that their questions are valued. My children’s questions are forming me – those moments consciously and sub-consciously challenge my own faith to seek, ask, and knock on a door that is promised to, indeed, “open.”
Their innocent inquiries serve as insights into the paradoxical and simple profundities fundamental to a “childlike faith;” and ultimately remind me of the wonderful mystery inherent within the God we serve. The questions my children ask are worth what it demands of me to offer them genuine responses.
Allow me to share a story from bedtime the other night. As it came time for our evening reading, Eiley handed me her children’s bible and asked, “Mom, can you please read me the story about the man with dots all over his body?” Confused, I began flipping through her bible to find an illustration matching her description - the story of Naman’s healing (2 Kings 5).
And so the story began, “Naman, a commander of the army of the king of Syria . . .” I paused for a moment. “Eiley,” I said, “Have you heard anything at school or church or on Mommy and Daddy’s radio about Syria?” Given the current state of affairs regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, I thought it a good opportunity to explain to her briefly and appropriately the situation. “There is a war happening in Syria,” I began, “and many people are having to pack up and travel far away from home in search of shelter and safety.” Eiley looked me square in the eyes and asked, “Momma, why does God let there be war?”
Gulp. Deep breath.
“Eiley,” I started slowly, “I don’t know why God allows war. I think it has something to do with sin and how evil the human heart can be without the love and light of Jesus.” I felt the urge to offer a polished argument, and yet somehow it felt right for Eiley to witness my own inability to reconcile a difficult reality. As we sat in the silence, wondering if I had taken the right route, Eiley matter-of-factly stated, “Well, if you don’t know why God lets there be war, you should just ask Siri.”
OH NO! Just ask SIRI?
You may be giggling right now. Me too. While Eiley’s statement was innocent and funny, it indicated an issue I fear might be similarly precarious for children and adults alike to navigate. We find ourselves in a technological milieu - the transmission of information is happening more rapidly and more tangibly than ever before. A new way of acquiring knowledge has emerged with the arrival of “smart devices.” With the push of a button, we find many of the answers we are looking for, and with Siri’s help, we even receive audible responses.
Every day, Eiley and her sisters hear me ask my phone questions – “Siri, what is the weather like today?” or “What time is my next appointment, Siri?” There isn’t anything inherently evil about technology, but I do wonder what impact its pervasiveness has on our spiritual formation – both our own, and our children’s. Eiley saw that Mommy didn’t have the answer, but she wanted it immediately – and immediate access to the answer is something we’ve all grown used to! The silence of waiting for a reply can feel uncomfortable – “I want answers, and I want them now!”
With God’s help, my husband and I hope to cultivate within our daughters a faith in God, and a desire to be stewards of his light, love, and life. We are teaching them to give thanks and make their requests known to God in prayer. But we also need to be teaching them to listen in prayer, to wait on God’s spirit to speak to them. We hope a rhythm of communication is formed, creating the time and space for legitimate connection with both the Godhead and those around us.
Isaiah 40:31 expresses, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Waiting on the Lord does not promise secret knowledge, better yet, it yields a life of transcending endurance, offering humanity not an escape from life’s challenges, but a divine perseverance in our unity with God. In a day and age wherein waiting for answers seems the “unpardonable sin,” perhaps we, as Christians, would be well served to remind ourselves, our children, and each other of the subversive power of prayer - wherein our unknowing meets God’s omniscience.