We teach little children prayers to say every night before they go to sleep. As parents, we listen to their prayers. And sometimes, as we listen to those sweet little voices, we might think, ‘Surely prayers should be more.’
Then, as we age, we think those prayers are for the little people. They seem too simple for our complex lives.
And our mistake is when we try to make our prayers more when simple is better.
In looking at the simple, we often see things we have forgotten because our so-called complex lives are actually only filled with distractions.
We receive more guidance for our lives when we actually heed what those little prayers are saying.
Three Little Prayers that are so Much More
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
In trying to protect our little ones from the harsh realities of life, we no longer teach the 1700s version of this famous prayer. You can find more forms of the updated (minus death) versions here.
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.
The first line is the calming one, the one that reminds us that God is there, a constant presence even as we sleep.
What’s wrong with asking God to be in charge of our souls? Nothing.
“If I should die”: this is the kicker. We don’t want to think about the end of our life which–we hope–is far, far in our futures, after we have lived many more years.
This third line is the reason for so many altered versions of this little prayer.
Some of those altered versions talk about angels watching over the sleeping child. These guardian angel additions may be adaptations from the Jewish Shema.
Guardian Angel Prayer (from the Jewish Tradition)
The little three-minute video at this link explains the Shema, a tradition thousands of years old, taken from Deuteronomy. I happened upon this little prayer while exploring ideas awakened in my reading of My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok.
Here is one version of the Jewish Bedtime Prayer, calling upon the Guardian Angels for protection:
To God Almighty, Lord of Israel:
May Michael be at my right hand,
Gabriel at my left hand,
Before me Raphael and behind me Uriel,
and above me the divine presence of God.
The Little Hand of God Prayer
Prayer is a conversation. People who never develop a prayer life as children worry about what to pray and how to pray. They never consider that prayer is just talking with God.
People who develop a strong prayer life just launch immediately into the prayer without worrying about what and how. They pray constantly, never worrying about the when or the where. They listen to God for His answers, and they speak to Him as someone who listens without judgment.
And the why of their prayers? A closer walk with Christ Jesus–which makes us better people–which improves more of those around us, human and nature–and thus improves our world.
The little Hand of God Prayer, a version of the Five-Finger Prayer, is often taught to children to give them guidance as they begin their prayer life.
Hand of God Prayer
1st, thank God for keeping us in the palm of His hand.
2nd, using the thumb, pray for those nearest to us. The thumb helps us HOLD things. The people nearest to us HOLD us close just as we HOLD them close.
3rd, using the first finger (index), the Pointer, pray for those who POINT us in the right directions: teachers and preachers and coaches.
4th, using the tallest finger (Tall Man), pray for those in charge of us: social and political leaders, bosses at work, anyone in authority over others (local and state and national and international).
5th, using the ring finger: This is the weakest finger. Even little pinkie does a better job pressing down than the ring finger does. Pray for those who are sick or feeble, for those who facing problems or diseases, anyone who is in trouble and suffering.
6th, the pinkie: The little finger represents us. It is the smallest finger, and we are not only small in relation to God but also small in relation to all around us. We should ask for things for ourselves, but our requests should not fill our prayers. (This is also an excellent way to begin teaching more humility to children–and to remind ourselves of our small place in the world and in the universe.)
Many people omit the 1st step, the Palm of God’s Hand, and just follow each finger. I have seen this prayer (as the Five Finger Prayer) attributed to Pope Francis, from his time as an archbishop. I don’t know the truth of that; my original source was in 2005.
Prayers that Grow with Us
Whoever developed these three little prayers, one by one by one, are three geniuses, for the simplicity of the prayers ensure their longevity.
The wonderful thing that elevates the Hand of God Prayer (and the ACTS prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) over other prayers is that it does not become rote memorization.
As we pray, we think about each part of it. Each part is developed by us and therefore has more meaning to us.
These early guides to praying can be as simple or as complex as we can make them. Simple is sometimes so much better than complex.
During a daily devotion to God, remember these early guides to praying. They seem simple until we examine them. And we don’t want to forget their simple lessons.
This Bright Week has examined devotions to God, beginning with the prayerful reminders of the Apostles’ Creed and the Gloria Patri (sometimes called the Minor Doxology yet more often known as the Glory Be), venturing to the ancient prayers of St. Francis of Assisi and the unknown monk of the Sarum monastery, and finally to these 3 simple prayers that guide children … as well as our adult selves.
Bright Saturday will conclude our two-week series on More devotions around Easter.
Our prayer life is extremely important yet so easily dismissed. How could simple talking with God accomplish so much? Yet it can.
Tomorrow we look at Praying for Guidance.