Our pastor has been teaching a series on prayer these past several months, which has been excellent. He began by leading us to slowly marinate in “The Lord’s Prayer” and this, in part, inspired me to begin teaching a mom-translated-preschool version to our two-and-a-half year old. This prayer is usually known as the “Our Father” prayer, but Izayla has organically renamed it “The Holy Prayer”.
I have changed and added a few words, and it took a few weeks to settle on something I am mostly comfortable with and that gives her some building blocks to begin understanding the essence of the prayer, and for that matter, God. I started with using the traditional word “sin” (“trespasses” is certainly not a standard preschool vocab word) but after a little while changed the word to “poor choices”, to match how we talk together in everyday life.
Izayla loves repeating each line after me, and intermittently I take a line at a time and explain what it means. When we did use the word “sin” she would happily repeat me, but as soon as I started leading out “forgive us our poor choice, just as we forgive others who make poor choices with us” she faltered. She became visibly uncomfortable with this concept and began protesting, “I don’t want to say ‘forgive us our poor choices’.” This continued for weeks, and I would let her skip repeating that part every night at bedtime, wondering what was happening in her pint-sized head.
Iven asked me recently if we have ever really explained God’s work to make forgiveness possible to her yet. How do you explain the Gospel to a two year old? Yes, of course…little bits here and there, but the vast concepts of sin, forgiveness, redemption, salvation…again, not part of pre-school vocabulary. How can we ask her to acknowledge her sin (poor choices) and to forgive others if she doesn’t know Jesus has already PROMISED forgiveness, and done the very work to seal the deal?
Well… a few days ago she was walking right by my side on a fairly crowded sidewalk and was knocked down flat on her back by a man examining the tall buildings overheard.  He felt terrible and she cried a lot, but was just fine after she calmed down.
Later that day she brought up the experience by saying, “Mama, remember that man who bonked me and made me fall down? He made a poor choice.” True, on some level, though I explained that he did not try to knock her down, and so his poor choice was just not being careful. “Do you think you would be able to forgive him for knocking you down? ” “No, I don’t want to” Fair enough.
We talked about how amazing forgiveness is, and how amazing and big and powerful God’s forgiveness is towards us. I explained how when we are mad at somebody and choose not to forgive them, then we are the ones that feel sad, and keep thinking about how we got hurt, but when we take that hurt and tell God that even though we got hurt we know that He loves and forgives that person who hurt us just as much as He does us, and ask Him to help us forgive, He does.
Izayla thought about that a minute and then brought up an incident I barely remembered that happened a few weeks earlier: “remember when Nacho threw a block and it hit me in the head?” “you could forgive Nacho too, and then you don’t have to feel sad about that anymore.”
She thought about that for a minute and then said Ok and asked me to help her pray to forgive those two people.
The kind of strange thing about this is that ever since then (this was about two weeks ago) Izayla is no longer hesitant about that part of the Lord’s prayer – I can see her little heart beginning to embrace the concept of forgiveness as the beautiful gift that it is, even though her two-year-old mind can’t even begin to understand it. But sometimes I wonder if our grown-up selves really don’t get much farther along than pre-schoolers… It is so hard to let go of offenses, to refuse to judge and condemn those that hurt us, and to let God take our pain. So hard, and so good. I hope my daughter will grow to love this gift, and really know the depth of its goodness, even so much more than I.