On a Friday afternoon I sat criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet in my first-grade classroom. Our teacher held up a glass of water and asked if we thought it would be fuller, less full, or go unchanged over the weekend if she left it sitting by the window. Six-year-old me quickly raised my hand and proclaimed that it would be fuller. She asked, even if we leave it inside the classroom? I immediately realized I had gotten it wrong, but I didn’t know why.
Another student, a boy with an older sister who had obviously already learned about evaporation, raised his hand and gave the right answer. It would be less full. My confidence was, too.
I was thinking about this moment the other day. This was one of those memories that popped into my head unprompted and unannounced. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but since it is so clear it seems it has been sitting right there under the surface. I wonder how much that moment has shaped who I am today.
Sometimes we get things wrong. And if first grade Liz reminds me of anything it’s that it doesn’t feel good to blurt out the wrong thing.
But here’s the thing. Little Liz learned something that day sitting on the carpet. She learned about evaporation, and she never forgot it.
At that moment in time I had no conception that water could just go somewhere else if humans didn’t intervene. (I think my teacher was right in her follow-up question; I was assuming somehow rain would get into the glass.) I actually needed that boy with the older sister to share his insight so I could learn.
If it hadn’t been him, it would have been our teacher who enlightened me.
The vulnerability of this moment of getting the wrong answer in front of everyone helped the information stick for me.
I like to have a lot of time to think about things before I talk about them. I rarely blurt out answers anymore the way I did sitting on the carpet in first grade. I sort of censor myself.
I am reading another book by Richard J. Foster, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home, and in the first chapter he talks about simple prayer. How it can be unfiltered, just us talking to God about the people and situations we are surrounded by. How we don’t need to say the right thing to God or have the right motives even.
Foster likens this to children who ask questions that are rude or careless. In his example, they have parents who aren’t upset that they asked the question, on the contrary, they are glad their kid trusts them enough to express a thought as they try to figure out the world.
I think my teacher was glad I raised my hand and offered up an answer to her question. I think teachers like when their students are excited about learning and engaged in the process. Perhaps this is part of what it means to become like little children in our faith.
This childlike perspective and posture of simple prayer before God is freeing for me because I sometimes find myself censoring even my prayers. I want to make sure and say the right thing, I want to make sure God knows I have grown up a bit in my faith, that I understand some things about life with God. (I’m speaking here about my private, inner prayer life.)
It is a discipline for me to be open and honest and vulnerable in the naked now (as Father Richard Rohr puts it in his book by the same title) when I pray.
But I am learning that God delights in the fact that I want to pray at all; God is inviting me to be honest about my anger, my fear, my delight, my hope. God is inviting me to blurt out through prayer whatever my thoughts and feelings are about a particular situation. If I’m listening, perhaps God will offer a clarifying question like my teacher did, or someone will come along and share an insight I had no idea was even possible (evaporation really is incredible when you think about it…).
By being open and eager before God I am learning, slowly but surely, what it means to be in an ever deepening relationship with my Creator.