I found an interesting suggestion for prayer recently. A minister recommends the following four steps:
- Gimme—asking for needs and wants
- Oops—admitting mistakes.
- Wow—praise and adoration.
The first two steps are common prayer ingredients, but the third and fourth stirred new thoughts in my mind about talking to God as a parent.
I suspect for most people, “Oops!” for mistakes is more relevant than repentance for transgression. Violating an arbitrary set of rules does not equal sin in my book. Sin is intentionally harming others—I could expand that to intentionally harming any of God’s creations, though I do recognize a hierarchy. As Ken Wilbur says, it’s better to kick a rock than an ape, better to eat a carrot than a cow.
Normal people do not intentionally sin, yet all of us unintentionally cause harm on occasion. We hurt feelings with harsh or critical words—usually to gratify our own egos. We neglect saying kind words or doing kind deeds that might help a person struggling with problems—I’m not talking about failing to offer service beyond the realm of our capability. We all have finite amounts of strength, means, and time. I am talking about acting upon our own self-interest while ignoring or even trampling the needs and rights of others.
Buddhism calls negative behaviors “unskillful” rather than “sinful.” Labeling ourselves as sinners and beating ourselves up is as likely to make us defend our unskillful actions as to actually improve our behavior. But when we realize we’ve behaved selfishly to any of God’s creations, we owe him an “Oops!”
The fourth step of prayer, “Wow!”,most intrigues me. The minister defined “Wow!” as praise. I have a problem with that. If I were God, I wouldn’t want to be praised. Praise embarrasses me—especially if it’s obligatory. I suspect God is free from the human need for ego food. While gratitude is always appropriate, God undoubtedly knows of his own goodness. But I do like the idea of “Wow!”—expressing excitement and enthusiasm for small miracles of the day—for gold, pink and coral clouds mounding into a perfect sunset, for an unsought flash of insight, for the softness of a child nestled on my lap, for the warmth of an unexpected hug—for friends, family, love, beauty—all that makes life a wondrous experience.
“Wow!” is more than thanks. “Wow!” is an instantaneous expression of joy for a moment of being. And what better way to please a parent? I delight in an unexpected phone call from a daughter who wants to share the joy of watching her kids coasting on new fallen snow. Or from a son calling to say three frisky goats have just been delivered to his backyard, hopefully to eat his crop of pernicious bamboo. If God is anything like earthly parents, I’m sure he gets a celestial kick when we take joy in the wonders of life, great or small, and direct thanks to the source of all goodness.