By Laura Seymour
This year, I asked our pre-K children, “What is a prayer?” They immediately started sharing different blessings. Even at age 4, they know the importance of blessings in Judaism — and we say a lot of them in a day at school! Blessings are a way of saying thank you to G-d for all the wonderful things we have in our lives. After we talked about all the blessings we know and use, I said to the children, “Blessings are an important way to say thank you to G-d, but what about asking G-d for something?” The children were sure that you couldn’t ask G-d for toys, but what if you wanted to go to the park with your friend and it was raining — could you pray to G-d that it would stop raining? Of course, the children agreed, because G-d makes the rain. That answer led to the question, “So what happens if it doesn’t stop raining? Does that mean that G-d isn’t listening?” The answer was amazing from such young children. “G-d was listening, but G-d probably knew that the trees and the flowers needed the rain more.”
Jewish prayer is both formalized and personal. Joel Lurie Grishaver said, “I learned to say brachot at the dinner table and I learned to pray on the ballfield.” There are times in our lives when spontaneous prayer is needed and bursts forth from us. However, Jewish prayer is formal in design, and in time and space. We pray at certain times and in Hebrew. The standard format for prayer is: Praise, ask, thank! During communal prayer, we ask as a community for very specific things. But, we should not forget to include our personal requests before ending our formal prayer.
Now there are many questions about prayer from children and adults: Does G-d hear? Does G-d answer? And, if not, why bother? Prayer is communication and communication builds a relationship. As we become comfortable with “talking to G-d,” we build our relationship with G-d. We become comfortable with the words of prayer and reaching out. Why is this important? As a musician, I have long understood the importance of practice. If we don’t practice, we will not be ready for the performance. If we don’t practice prayer, we are not ready when we need it.
Back to our children — each day at school, we say blessings, we pray and we talk about G-d. They are so comfortable with “G-d talk” because they have a relationship with G-d. Isn’t it wonderful that they can understand that G-d might have other reasons for making the rain? That is what faith is all about! I pray that our children will always have faith and a relationship with G-d.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.