My friends Ryan and Katie have a really cute little girl. I sincerely believe all kids are intrinsically cute, but their daughter Abigail is one of those show-stopping, let-me-coo-over-your-toddler-because-her-smiles-make-me-feel-that-world-peace-is-possible kind of cute.
Strangers hug her, and I think she could enjoy a very successful career modeling for Baby Gap.
This is why, when Katie and Ryan came over for a meeting at church a few weeks ago, I found myself absent-mindedly watching Abigail while she toddled around. She was just more interesting to follow than the evening's agenda.
Walking from the massive copy machine to the chairs in the lobby, Abigail was delighted to explore new territory. While I regularly keep teenagers safe in this meeting space, I realized the antiquated building was absolutely not childproof, and the contents farther down the hall could pose a threat to an 18-month-old. I flipped off the lights, figuring Abigail would be way too skittish to walk down a dark hallway alone.
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I was wrong. While she slowed down and proceeded with caution, Abigail was undaunted, as long as one thing stayed constant. Taking a few steps down the dark path, I watched as Abigail turned around and eyed the meeting room. Seeing Ryan, she muttered "Dada" with a quiet confidence. Then she kept walking.
It was remarkable. And, as always the case with Abigail, so stinking cute! As long as Ryan remained in her line of sight, she was unafraid. She wasn't calling him to come help, either. Just reminding herself that he was there, looking behind her every few steps and repeating, "Dada, Dada, Dada" to herself.
I envied that kind of poise. While I'm no longer afraid of the dark, I think we all face a lot of dark hallways, metaphorically speaking. Confrontations, illness, financial stress, uncertainty about the future, unemployment -- life holds its share of darkness.
When we experience this, we can grit our teeth and push through on our own, or we can take a lesson from Abigail and remember who stands behind us.
As a child, I used to say my bedtime prayers by rattling off all my requests to God as quickly as I could before I fell asleep. I used to think of prayer as just that -- telling God what I needed. Over the years I've learned that God already knows what I need. When I pray, it's to remind myself of this -- not give him a wishlist.
Much like Abigail kept reminding herself of her "Dada's" presence as she walked into unknown territory, our prayer time will be most fruitful when it's spent simply looking toward our father and allowing him to be God and give us what we need.
This is easier said than done. We're so conditioned to feel that we have to be productive, it can creep into our prayer and turn it into a brainstorming session that looks something like, "Dear God. I need help. In fact, I think it would be great if you helped me score the lease to that new apartment for about 15 percent less than it's listed. OK, good chat. TTFN!"
We spend more time telling God how to solve our problems than looking at him and remembering that he created us and knows exactly what we need.
We can be pretty bad at listening and watching. Yet the first steps of prayer are just that -- to remember that we are in the presence of a loving father who is always near, even when we feel alone.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at http://www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.