High River United Church of High River, Alberta


Questions Children Ask! Why didn't God give me a puppy when I prayed for one?

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First of all, when answering a child’s question, remember:

 -Children usually want simpler answers than we give them. 

 -Children may not be asking the question we think they are asking. 

 -Children love answering their own questions.

 -There is no bad question.

 -It is okay not to have an answer right away..

 -It is also okay to say that some questions just don’t have answers, at least not right now.

 ESPECIALLY – remember that children love answering their own questions.


This is a question to turn back to your child. Why do they think that they didn’t just magically get a puppy or pony or kitty or (fill in the blank) when they prayed for one? The wisdom of their answers will likely be amazing.

But why didn’t God give them a puppy when they prayed for one? And why doesn’t God just give us whatever we pray for, especially when it is something that really would be good, like a cure for a loved one’s disease?


In discussing this question with your child, the answer centres around two things:

1) God is not Santa. Prayer isn’t giving a wish list and expecting it to be fulfilled.

2) God’s gift of free will.


Now you might not use those terms with a child, but let’s explore a bit further where this discussion might go.   First of all, what do you believe that prayer is all about?


It is helpful to go back to the Hebrew roots of the word prayer.  The Hebrew word is tefillah.  We know that Jesus prayed every day and often every day.  We read stories about him going off alone to pray or into a garden to pray.  When he was praying, he was engaging in tefillah. While the simple translation is “prayer,” the full definition of this Hebrew word is more nuanced.  It means to clarify, to discern, to decide, to differentiate, to judge, to consider.  That’s what we hear Jesus doing when he prays.  He is considering, discerning, sometimes wrestling with what is going on, and inviting God into that process.


Too often we hear of prayer being used as a “wish-list” or maybe rather a “to-do” list for God.  Here, God, here is what I want you to do for me today.  Make it so!


But that isn’t prayer.  Prayer is not about giving our demands to God, even if we do it nicely.  Prayer is not about negotiating with God: “If I never eat ice-cream again, will you make my puppy better?”   Prayer is not about manipulating God into action:  “I’ll tell everyone I go to church, if you’ll give me a pony.”


It is better to think of prayer as a conversation between you and God.  That means that you aren’t going to be the only one doing the talking.  Prayer also needs to include listening and noticing – paying attention to the ways that God is communicating with you.  You may or may not be able to spend time sitting in silence – but watch along the way throughout the day. What keeps jumping out at you --  a word, a picture, a thought!   I’ve had times when I was praying about something, and trying to decide what to do – and then three different people have mentioned something to me that fits with what I’m trying to decided.  They didn’t know about my prayer; I had never mentioned it, but their wisdom came to me as a gift from God.


We can share all of our emotions in prayer: our anger, our joy, our sadness, our frustration, our hopes, our dreams.  God is big enough to take all that we feel and to receive even our anger and frustration.  God isn’t going to punish or smite us for being angry (even if we are angry at God.)  We can express everything to God.  We can cry with God (tears are the best things for healing and release).  We don’t have to edit what we say to God.  Isn’t that a relief?  We can relax and tell God everything and anything – things we might not feel we can share with anyone else.  That’s what Jesus did and that’s what we can do.


God hears our prayers! God is with us; we are not alone!  God loves us!


So, if God loves us so much, when we pray to God for a pony or puppy or a cure for a loved one or a new job, why doesn’t God magically give us those things?


First of all, NO, is an answer, as is MAYBE and YES.  God may have indeed answered our prayer with a No or a Not yet.  It is not the answer we wanted and it may not make sense to us, but it is an answer. 


As a parent/grandparent, there are times when we have to say No to our children.  In fact, there are times when we must say NO to our children, for their safety and their well-being.  They might not understand why they can’t have the cookies or that we don’t have the money to buy them a bicycle or a car or a toy.  They might not see the bigger picture, but we see it and we know that the best answer at this moment is No or Not yet!  They won’t understand our explanations, and so we just say, “No!” They might be upset and that’s okay, because we see something more than they can see at the moment.


That’s how it is sometimes with God.  There are things we can’t know and can’t understand.  But I trust in God, who has a much, much, much larger perspective.


In choosing to create the world, the universe and all living things, God gave us free will.  God allowed for free expression, creativity, imagination, choice, and possibility.  God didn’t create robots.  God gave us the responsibility and privilege of making our own decisions.  Much good can come from that, but also bad things can come from that.  Sometimes it is our own choices that are painful, but sometimes it is the decisions of others that cause us harm.  It is all part of free will.


That doesn’t mean that God isn’t active in the world.  What it does mean is that God works with us and in us.  We are part of God’s plan for the healing and restoration of goodness in this world. And God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to us to teach us a lesson or punish us. Everything about God is love!  Love is not cruel. Love does not cause us harm. God is love!


When we pray, we are inviting God into our decisions, our choices, our thinking, our creativity. We are inviting God’s wisdom.  We could choose another way.  We could try to force what we want to happen. But, in prayer, we are asking for God’s perspective. And sometimes God will give us a No!  When I’ve felt that No!, it is hard to receive because my mind is so set on something.  But what I’ve discovered is that, if I let go, and open myself to new possibilities, something more comes along that I didn’t see before. 


And when the bad things happen, God is there, too.  When we are grieving, or in the midst of illness, or facing death, God is there, working with us to bring whatever good can be, even if we can’t change what is happening.  That’s why Jesus came, to show us that God is with us!


While I’m talking about prayer, I want to mention memorized prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father, who art in heaven…)  If prayer is about conversation, why do we say remembered prayers, that have the words already formed for us?  Think of it as entering into the conversation of the community of faith.  People have repeated some of these prayers for thousands of years.  When we pray a prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer, we can find comfort in knowing that we are connected with a broader, much broader, community of people who have journeyed in faith.  I find such rest in repeating words that so many others have prayed over the centuries.


I also pray words from prayer books that others have written.  Sometimes, when I can’t find my own words to start the conversation with God, I love using words that others have shared, to inspire, to encourage, to challenge my own thinking.


So when I pray for a puppy, God doesn’t just conjure up a puppy.  But I might still pray for a puppy, and begin the conversation with God in which God can help me find what is more important, what is good for my life.  When I pray, the words I hold in my heart are from Ephesians 3:20 “Glory to God whose power at work within me can accomplish infinitely more than I can ask for or imagine.”   When I pray, I open myself to an infinite power, a power who is bringing healing and mending to the whole world, and that might not include a puppy for me, but I do know that ultimately, what God and I work out together will be good – very good indeed!

 June 29, 2017                          ©Susan Lukey 2017

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