Authentic Words

Last week my son was filling out school application forms and answering questions about what he wants out of his education and what he thinks he brings to the class – as if he or any 12 year old knows the answers to these questions. I was a little worried whether what my son had written was long enough or if it was written well enough. He hasn’t had time to think about this much, or had any of the coaching that I think other kids might get, and it really wasn’t his choice to change schools right now. And neither my husband or I ever applied to schools before we went to college, so we don’t have a lot of experience with this process. The head of his middle school gave me some advice that helped a lot: He said the most important thing is that the answers be authentic. Oh. Good. Authentic we can do.

But I think it is our human nature to worry about whatever we write or say. Are we using the right words? Are we doing it right? And this is not new.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus’s disciples asked him, “How should we pray? What should we say?” And as I read it, Jesus said it doesn’t matter that much. You can call God whatever you want: Blessed Creator, Holy One, Papito. Just ask for what you need and say thank you. But ever since, Christians have gotten all hung up on this. Are we saying the magic words right? So we cling to words that we don’t even know what they mean. We still memorize “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…” And then our kids wonder, what does art have to do with it and what does hallowed mean? Instead of just using simple words that mean something to us. Like,

Dear God, you are so important to us. Help us to know and to do the right thing. Help us to find what we need and to be satisfied with that. We need your help. Thank you.

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Blogger Patrick Ruth said...

Well said, Robin. As Anne Lamott has related the best prayers she knows: Help me, help me, help me-and Thank you, thank you, thank you. That which is eternal sees our heart before we even acknowledge our need to state to God our words and to live into our path (to be authentic). Thanks/Blessings Patrick

4/13/2011 5:10 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I was shocked recently to learn that one of those "schools you have to apply to in order to attend" has an ANNUAL process of either inviting back, or not, each of its students. That just felt so brutal to me. For parents of kids who the school considers on the edge, and this could mean that the child is reading a half a school year behind where their classmates are (I'm not exaggerating), it means an annual exercise of anxiety. I hope your destination is a little kinder to its students and their parents than the one where my friend's son is enrolled.

4/14/2011 11:43 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Yes, Patrick, I think you're right that God knows before we say it - that's one of the benefits of talking to God. I wrote a post once about my big lumpy mess o' prayer.

Kathleen, we don't know yet where our boys will go and we are keeping a lot of options open. An annual reassessment seems like too much. Although I have gotten used to the annual reassessment of how much they think we can pay for school. It's still a nerve-wracking process every time.

4/14/2011 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Steph said...


I've worked out a pretty good bedtime prayer system, I think, with my seven-year-old: an Our Father, God Blesses for family and relatives and some random folks (often it's "and even the Yankees, but don't let them win"), and then a "Hi, God" prayer that's just conversation.

It works for me, too!

4/15/2011 5:26 PM  
Blogger friendlyway said...

On 3rd of 4th month, I did a short presentation to Savannah (GA) MM on Wilmer Cooper's Testimony of Integrity. Oddly enough, this was planned before Quaker Life put out a call for articles on this topic. It must be the season!

In brief, I said:

The inconsistency of those who Fox observed in his hometown church was as responsible as anything for his spiritual search. Something spoke to him that what was professed on first day should be acted out on all other days. There must be Integrity in our lives.

Integrity, for me as for Cooper, seems to be at the core of our faith. It calls us to:

(1) Consistency

(2) Honesty -- no spin

(3) Obedience -- to the Light within

(4) Authenticity -- present one's self without artifice

(5) Wholeness -- sense of self as complete and yet part of all humanity

(6) Unity -- religious decision based on a common sense of God's will

4/19/2011 1:18 PM  

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