To Pray or Not to Pray?

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I have a granddaughter that will be confirmed this weekend. We will all be there to celebrate this milestone in her life.

I remember my confirmation. It was a moment in my life that I do remember and treasure. I know what I wore and I remember the day and what I chose for my confirmation name. We had to do that in my church at that time. Usually, it was a Saint’s name.

As much as I have written about my days growing up Catholic and telling you the tales of things that unsettled me about my religion, there were many positives too. As a young child, you don’t appreciate all the prayers you need to remember or the religion classes, but those are the very things that get me through my life.

I changed religions for a couple of reasons. I wanted to attend church as a family and I was impressed with the faith of my new nieces and nephews and their religious instruction in the Lutheran Church. I was impressed with their knowledge of the Bible. I was impressed with their confirmation programs that encompassed many hours of study. I was impressed with their Sunday Schools. I was impressed with their knowledge of other religions.

Today I use some things from my upbringing still, and I use things I learned as a Lutheran and from other relatives of other religions. But forming my faith started as a young child.

I have fallen away from church time to time when I was lost and searching, but I was always drawn back because of prayer and what I learned from both religions.

One day I was at a baseball game with my grandson. They were losing by over ten points and it was getting worse by the minute. Before the game I asked him if he prayed for help to do his best, not win, just to do his best. He told me no and gave me a funny look. I decided I would pray for his team, not to win, but to do their best and possibly bring the score up so it was a little closer and they wouldn’t feel so defeated. I did and I have to admit, I was amazed they scored over ten points and brought the game to a tie that inning. They did lose but not the terrible loss they would have had. I told my grandson I did that, and again I got the funny look. I was convinced it helped, but he wasn’t convinced.

Another time when chatting with another grandson who was about to play in a basketball game I again inquired if he asked God to help him do his best. His funny look appeared and he said no. I told him he should. I asked him later if he took my advice and he didn’t because he thought it was a strange request.

Both these boys go to church and Sunday School. I was taught to pray without ceasing no matter how little or unimportant my needs seemed. We’ve all heard the “someone needs it more than I do” speech.

Sunday School was more intense when I was growing up, and I know this even though I was not in a protestant Sunday School. We Catholics in our school had to go to church every day during the school year. Sunday School for people my age in protestant churches, and for my kids was every Sunday morning for an hour. Going to church was a requirement. It didn’t matter what was happening in the community with sports, church and Sunday School came first.

Confirmation was another matter. Saturday mornings for my Protestant friends and for my children were for two to three hours and Wednesday nights were church time. There were memorization and work that had to be done, and if it wasn’t, you were not allowed to be confirmed. Some might argue that this is too harsh for the young ones of today, but I argue it is why I have a foundation to hold on to at my lowest times; even the times I shy away from my church community.

John McCain tells of how his faith was strengthened, restored and tested as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. One of his prayers was to be given another minute to keep living. Orson Swindle was a Marine Captain who spent six years in captivity. He and his fellow prisoners would cough the letter C for church and tap a code so they knew it was time to pray together, and they would say their prayers on their own, but at the same time. The prayers were the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. Prayer was their sustenance. Had they not learned that at their parent’s knees and in their Sunday Schools and churches they would not have had those memorized prayers in their darkest hours or been able to whisper their personal words of prayer.

Our churches today have changed in what they expect of our youth. Sunday School classes are shortened. After confirmation teenagers disappear from their churches because they are given the option by their parents and society to not be a part of a community where their faith will be sustained. Many teenagers, even Confirmation age have a hard time reciting any rote prayer such as the Lord’s prayer or the 23rd Psalm. We have dumbed down the teaching of our children to conform to society’s expectations, rather than keeping the expectation of what our children should be learning to be able to withstand the world today. Sunday school and education programs, along with youth events, are among the first cut when trying to save money. We seem to lower our standards for our youth to keep people in our churches yet churches are emptier. We expect less and we are getting less. How is that working for us?

I know people are falling away from the church communities for many different reasons. There is a lack of trust in the old church establishment. Yes, fragile leaders have let us down. Judgment has driven us away. The politics of churches have driven us away. Yet we still need that “old time religion” to grow up those kids so that if they are in situations they cannot handle they know prayer and faith will help. They can turn to a common prayer together as those prisoners did or if they cannot eke out a prayer of their own because of their situation. Our children today need a foundation and we are failing if we don’t give that to them.

If I can leave one moment of wisdom for my grandchildren, it is to never quit praying in all instances, no matter how small the request might be. Memorize those prayers; there will be times you can’t find your own words for prayer but your heart will pull up that which is memorized embedded in your heart.

There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. — Victor Hugo

A Sand Beach In A Sunday School Room

Chapter Five: A Sand Beach In A Sunday School Room

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I remember when the young Pastor asked me to teach Sunday School. A former Catholic teaching religion to first graders when I was still learning to be Lutheran? I didn’t think that was a good fit. But because I wasn’t into saying no in those days and because I wanted to fit in, though terrified, I accepted.

Little did I know the first time I said yes would lead me to teach sixth grade, then confirmation, finally serving as Sunday School Superintendent for many years. As I look back I have to analyze whether I said yes because I wanted to be liked or belong or whether I really wanted to teach young minds about Jesus. I think it was a little bit of both. I hadn’t counted on learning right along with the youngsters.

We had young Pastors so they knew what young kids liked and were on the pulse with what was happening because they had young families. The older generation of people at that time seemed to be open to some changes when it came to the kids.

Remembering how I grew up I wanted to make learning about Jesus interesting. We chanted Bible Verses, we told the story so kids could understand and one year we had a night family Bible School. We decorated the rooms to the hilt with a real beach with sand in one room, rowboats, nifty food, drama, storytelling and music. It was memorable and well planned. The older generation joined us too. We blended the old with the young. The older generation helped us shape our kid’s belief in God. We couldn’t have done it without them.

And I learned about the Bible, something I didn’t get from my old religion. Being a young adult I still didn’t give the structure much thought because the church was booming and it didn’t feel so structured as to be intimidating or judgmental. It was a growing time and members were excited about the growth. Although one of the things which did frustrate me was the amount of money spent on education versus keeping the church beautiful and perfect.

Perfection was part of the establishment which made me want to scream. Imagine stacking silverware perfectly in the drawers in the kitchen one by one with not one item out of place or we got into trouble with the kitchen ladies. What did that have to do with God? At another Lutheran Church which I belonged to, I was helping with a Ladies Luncheon and there were two sets of silverware. Being a new member of the church I didn’t know. After I had the entire room set with one of the sets of silverware I was told I needed to change the silverware. A little note here–the silverware all looked good.

I said I thought it looked fine. I was told to change it or I could leave. I was a little over the wanting to belong, so I said I could arrange that and started to get my purse to leave. They must have thought about it and the silverware stayed and so did I, but my views started changing on what church should be. These are the tiny little things that made me start to question religious institutions. What was their priority?

Next Blog: I Wish You Five Minutes

It’s Lutheran Time

Chapter Four: My journey as a Lutheran

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I started to question religion when I was in high school. Many of my friends were Lutheran and I liked what they were learning. I could believe their teachings much easier than some of my Catholic teachings.

One of the biggest problems I had was going to confession. Yes, I thought I needed confession but I didn’t understand why I needed to go through a Priest to ask for God’s forgiveness or how the way I confessed my sins by reciting a list that I wasn’t sure was right, made a difference.

I graduated from high school and spent some time in college before quitting to go to work. During this time I met my husband to be. Before we could get married he had to go through marriage instruction in the Catholic Church. He was turned off and so was I from his joining the Catholic Church when the Priest made a comment about the Vikings and used a derogatory word against another race during a conversation. I must admit that too made me question my roots.

A few short months later my father died. The funeral was in the Methodist Church and it made me sad that the first time I attended his church was the day of his funeral. What it would have meant to him for us to go to church together when he was alive, but he never questioned the authority of the religion I was raised in.

Later on, I would find letters during my mom and dad’s thirteen-year courtship of the problems they had getting married because of the difference in their religion, something as a young child and teenager I had never thought of and it was something they never spoke of. It took them thirteen years to challenge the stigma of what then was called a mixed marriage.

My first son was baptized Catholic in a private baptism because of my husband not being Catholic. At least one sponsor had to be Catholic and that was no problem since my best friend during my grade school and high school years was Catholic.

Observing my husband’s family and what his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews knew of the Bible and the education in the church, I made the decision to change religions. I wanted something for my family I never had growing up and that was to go to church as a family.

So I started instruction in the Lutheran Church from the Pastor I mentioned earlier. My mother told me I was going to hell because I was changing religions. It was not an easy time but she loved her grandchildren and so she tempered her judgment–still, over the years it would come up in subtle ways, such as her reluctance to attend communion and confirmation of her grandchildren.

Her feelings were still prevalent when she was in her nineties. She never let go of telling me I was going to hell because I was a Lutheran and not Catholic. It caused me sadness and her heartache because of her views. Can you imagine believing your only child was going to hell?

Next Blog: A Sand Beach In A Sunday School Room