The Little Lord of Small Concerns

My concerns are so petty.

Whenever I pause to pray, that’s almost always my first thought. Who am I to ask God for anything? He’s already given me everything. A warm home, a loving family, good health. So what if my baby won’t nap? So what if my puppy needs surgery? So what if I constantly feel overwhelmed by adulting? That’s called life.

Nearly all my petty concerns will resolve themselves, with or without divine intervention. So who am I to waste God’s time? Who am I to ask for mild creature comforts when so much of the world is suffering? I would genuinely rather God direct his energy to those who need it more. So my solution is often to just not pray. Some piece of me believes that’s a selfless act. I assume God’s energy, like mine, is finite. In a finite universe, I confess I’m not a priority.

In the ongoing dialogue with my Catholic husband about saints, however, I’ve been starting to find some cracks in this perspective. Like most folks raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have long had an allergic reaction to Catholic Saints. Especially praying to them. It’s idolatry, it’s blasphemy, it’s pedestalization to pray to a human instead of God. I won’t do it. (Relatedly, please cut “Praise to the Man” from the next LDS hymnbook edition.)

What I’ve realized recently, though, is that the entire mystique of saints is to intercede for our petty concerns. On Earth these were imperfect folks focused on their personal spiritual missions; now in heaven they are happy to still serve. St. Brigid (the patron saint of babies), has compassion for my baby’s lack of sleep. St. Francis (the patron saint of animals) cares about my puppy herniating a disk. St. Anthony (the patron saint of misplaced things) wants to help with my constant chaos of household organizational chores. While I’m still uncomfortable with praying to saints, the idea of angels in a group chat I can vent to about minor things feels much more approachable. They’re all part of my extended heavenly family; they have to listen to my whining. What else is family for?

This reflection has shed light for me on just how authoritarian my conception of God is. Despite all the cuddly talks we heard as children about Jesus saving the lost sheep, the overwhelming emphasis was still on A GOD OF ORDER. A GOD OF JUSTICE. A GOD OF OBEDIENCE. A GOD OF ETERNAL AND UNCHANGING RULES. In prayer I needed to approach him with respect, with formality, and having already obtained some minimum level of worthiness and perfection. No wonder it seems easier to ask a flawed friend, or quirky saint, to think positive thoughts in my general direction than to approach CHRIST THE KING, THE ONE TRUE, LIVING AND ALMIGHTY GOD.

Screw that.

Christ was born as a tiny baby in a humble manger. His parents fled the country as refugees. He worked as a tradesman. He slept on the deck of a fishing boat. His feet were constantly filthy. And through it all, he showed constant kindness to little kids and beggars and prostitutes. This is not a divinity that stands on formalism. No, Christ is the Lord of small, petty, and broken things. Both his atonement and his attention span are infinite.

So maybe, as I type this, and my baby just woke up due to an ambulance screeching by, it’s ok to offer a little prayer. Both for whomever the ambulance is rescuing (they are the higher priority), and for my baby to go back to sleep.

Comments

  1. Kitty like says:

    I love this. This was reinforced to me this year. In 2021 I had prayed that someone would ask my daughter to her senior prom. All the while I prayed, I felt this nagging feeling that this was too unimportant to pray about. She did not get asked, and life went on. Till this spring, a high school co-worker asked my daughter, now in college, to his prom. She said yes, and while we went dress shopping, a very clear voice came to me, “This was an answer to your prayer.” Christ is the Lord and teenage girls and proms.

  2. I have always been bothered by our general authorities attitude that our Heavenly Father is some distant great king that “we should not get too familiar with.”

    Then they turn around and screw up the English language to saying we use “thee and thou” because we need to be using the formal with God. No, they need to learn a foreign language and even Middle English should do. I know enough German to know that German uses the familiar with God, while I still don’t know enough German to try to write any of it for y’all. The Bible we use was translated into Middle English, and uses the archaic form of second person familiar. Familiar, as you use with family, not formal as you use with the king of England.

    This is because the title most preferred by our Heavenly Father is not King, but Father. That is the role that is most important to him. He wants us to address him as father, well, actually the Bible and Jesus use Abba, which would translate in English to “daddy”. So, in English we should se the form of address we use with our daddy. Not the formal we would use when addressing the king of England.

    It is kind of too band that Mormon leaders want to hang onto the archaic King James Bible, because it is confusing our leaders who think God is some kind of distant being you show respect to instead of our daddy we show *love* to. This confusion warps their idea of who God is, and they get thinking of Him as some far away distant powerful being to be feared, instead of someone close who worries about our little worries, and cries with us over our big and little sorrows.

    When my kids were small, I cried with them over dead bugs and scraped knees. Now that they are adults, they don’t come to me with scraped knees. They don’t want to “bother” me unless they go into the hospital. But we are not adults to God and won’t be until we again godhood ourselves. So, he doesn’t mind us going to him with our scraped knees and dead bugs. He cries with us over the things we cry over, not because they are terribly important to him, but because he loves us.

    I had a friend years back who learned this and had to share it, because she had been raised with this idea of a distant God and it was so exciting to discover He was so close that he cared about our little worries. She was stuck on a sewing project. She didn’t know how to install a zipper into a scripture case. She prayed, thinking all the time it was too insignificant to bother God with. But, later, words came into her mind, “Inside out. I love you, even you little problems.” So, she turned her scripture case inside out, and could see how to put in the zipper. She was much more excited to discover God’s love than to complete her scripture case.

  3. I love this post. And the comments. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. I just want to say that I love the idea of an angel group chat!

  5. John Charity Spring says:

    Carolyn is absolutely correct that we must eliminate Praise to the Man from the hymn book. Only God deserves praise, not man. This song promulgates the false idea that man is worthy of worship. That is not true, even in regard to leadership.

  6. PassTheChips says:

    Theodicy has never really bothered me. The problem of blessings has and still does. It implies a capricious god, an inattentive god, a god of the slot machine.

    I prefer a completely non interventionist god.

  7. A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

    When I decided to jettison the Thee, Thy, Thine, Thou business I discovered that my Father in Heaven was not only a truly loving Parent who desired to keep company with me His beloved child but that prayer was the ultimate expression of my love for Him. It revolutionized my spiritual life in too many ways to count. I have since quietly shared this discovery with friends and family who have told me how difficult praying is for them. The shift from trying to worship some remote, inscrutable Being with language we no longer use to talking to God as Abba or Daddy has been life changing for them too. I say quietly because for too many members this belief is set in stone, which is a wonderful metaphor regarding members who refuse to ever contemplate and re-examine what they’ve been taught at or by the church.

    DHO must’ve been asleep in his High School English classes when Shakespeare and Early Modern English were being studied, because if he hadn’t he would have discovered that his four favorite TH words are used in close, beloved relationships. The word “you” is actually the formal word for those who are accorded deep respect due to title and/or office as well as those who the individual addressing them doesn’t know well enough to be in a close relationship with.

    This has been one of his pet grievances for decades. As a BYU student who was there at the end of his reign he harped endlessly on it at devotionals and firesides. It’s a shame that the English faculty weren’t comfortable enough to give him his own private tutorial on the matter. On the other hand, he most probably wouldn’t have believed the salient facts even if they’d shown him hundreds of examples to prove their point. Once DHO makes up his mind about something (the language of prayer and LGBTQ+ people are good examples) it appears that no new knowledge or enlightenment can ever change it. I pity him.

  8. Just make sure you use the proper pronouns. Or don’t pray in English. Apparently he is THAT petty.

  9. I’ve always struggled reconciling the idea that God is involved in the minutiae of our lives (i.e., the God of lost keys) with the realization that many (most?) of those who need God’s real help–victims of sex trafficking and genocide, for instance–seem to have their (inevitable) pleas for help go unanswered. I guess theodicy is a real concern for me. I don’t know that this post offers a solution to this quandary for me (I don’t think there is a solution), but I love the idea of praying for both that the baby will go to sleep and for the person in the ambulance. You said it beautifully, “This is not a divinity that stands on formalism. No, Christ is the Lord of small, petty, and broken things. Both his atonement and his attention span are infinite.”

    As an aside, I’m not sure why as a church we only care about English pronoun usage. (As an aside, In Oaks’ April 1993 General Conference talk the “Language of Prayer” he acknowledges that the thee, thy, thou usage as a form of formal language is ahistorical).

  10. I’m currently typing this comment with tears running down my face, super sick with a respiratory virus that I’m graciously sharing with my toddler. Mama and baby sick together means no rest for me. But I just said a prayer to help that Bluey might keep attention a bit longer, sippy cups of juice may be drained, and coughs relieved quickly because the line “no, Christ is the Lord of small, petty, and broken things. Both his atonement and his attention span are infinite” spoke so deeply to my soul, I didn’t know what else to do. I’m not sure if the being who I was talking to is upset because my prayer was super familiar sounding but I feel okay about it. And a bit stronger to keep going.

    Thanks.

  11. A Pesky Begger says:

    Laura, I just added to that petty burden we place on the Lord by offering my own prayer that you and your baby will find some rest, and some peace, this night. I’m sure things will resolve themselves without any devine intervention, but hoping to make things just a little more bearable doesn’t seem petty or like a waste of a prayer. You’ll be in my thoughts throughout the day.

  12. Wayfaring Stranger, fwiw, Oaks does know that Thee and Thou are the familiar forms–he explains here why that doesn’t matter to him:

    “Scholarship can contradict mortal explanations, but it cannot rescind divine commands or inspired counsel. In our day the English words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed.”

    https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1993/04/the-language-of-prayer?lang=eng

    His explanation seems like a stretch to me.

  13. As a mode of expression becomes more archaic, it starts to seem foreign to native speakers. Eventually, it becomes so archaic that it is literally a foreign language. It would be absurd to think that we need to learn a foreign language in order to read the scriptures and to pray. We’ve been through that discussion already in the Protestant Reformation.

    What’s most interesting about the current situation is that we seem to be at a threshold point in perceptions of KJV English. Today, the King James Version has become difficult for us in a way that it wasn’t difficult for people in Joseph Smith’s time, or even for many people fifty to one hundred years ago. General authorities know this. It is common for general conference speakers to use alternative translations of Bible passages when they quote scripture. They do this because they want to be understood.

    Updating the language of scripture is not an insoluble problem. It just takes some work.

    Thirty years ago, President Oaks may have been correct that “thee, thou, thy, and thine” were available to use in prayer. They are no longer available. There is nothing sinister about this. It’s a natural result of the way all languages change. Now we need to do the work.

  14. When, in Junior high school, I began to learn French, I encountered the split between the familiar and formal forms of address. Thee, thou, thine, etc. are the vestiges of the familiar form which English has largely dropped. I concluded that the whole point was to address my Father in Heaven in the same way I addressed my earthly father. Fortunately, my earthy father is as much like my Father in Heaven as he could manage while still a mortal. So I applied the same forms of address for both of them.

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