My mother was a woman of faith and conviction. She definitely helped to secure my belief in God. But she was not a sweet, sappy, super-spiritual saint who carried her Bible everywhere she went and greeted people with "Praise the Lord." No, she was a real person with real challenges-and she had a real faith in a real God. She had a relationship with Him in the deepest part of her being. It was like bedrock beneath every obstacle she ever faced, every emotion she ever felt, every decision she ever made, and every victory she ever gained. She did not flaunt it, she did not spiritualize it, she simply lived it.
In teaching me to pray, my mother never sat me down at the kitchen table and said, "Now son, this is how you pray. First you say this and then you say that..." No, she taught me through exposure. Now, many of us may have been exposed to prayer through various contexts throughout our lives. We have heard people pray in our churches, and in our schools if we are of a certain age. We may have grown up in a family that paused before mealtimes to thank God for you food. We may have seen people pray on television as we watched state funerals or events such as a presidential inauguration. We may have found ourselves in situations so desperate that we have uttered almost a primal cry to God for help or relief. Then again, we may be people who live by prayer, having plumbed the depths of relationship with God, through the communion of prayer. Nevertheless, like a first kiss from a secret crush, we never forget our first awareness of what it means to converse with God.
My own exposure began around the table. I suppose that is where I first became aware that people talk to God. Of course, growing up in church, I heard people pray in my Sunday school classes and in church services. At times those prayers stirred my soul and at times I did not really understand them. I did, though, believe God was listening and I knew that He could answer. But there came a point when my exposure to prayer solidified into a concrete commitment to heavenly communication.
My sister became sick. In her early twenties, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking situation, one our family could do nothing about. Of course, we could feed her, and take care of her and ensure that she received the best medical care we could find, but at the core of the matter, we were powerless to heal her. We were helpless when it came to being able to ease her pain or relieve her symptoms. All we could do was pray. My family's prayers became urgent, fervent, passionate, desperate, and unceasing, as they went forth from our house with the speed, focus, and force of a steady stream of bullets aimed at the throne of God. My mother led the charge.
Reprinted from "Mama Made the Difference" by arrangement with G.P. Putnam's Sons.