He was a kid with a dream. As the holiday season approached, he knew just want he wanted for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun. Ralphie was set on his dream no matter what anyone else told him, and everyone from Santa to his Teacher to his Mother told him the same thing: “You’ll put your eye out.” After all of his adventures leading up to Christmas, it seemed like his wish was forgotten as they unwrapped the presents. But after all was done, his Dad showed him something else in a forgotten corner: the long desired BB gun. Brimming with pride and not taking off his PJs, he went in the back yard to shoot it for the first time. Lo and behold, it almost did what everyone told him it would do: it broke his glasses. Turns out what Ralphie wanted so desperately wasn’t what he needed, and he wasn’t interested in it anymore when it almost hurt him.
When we turn to God in prayer, we have to be careful to distinguish between our wants and our needs. The story of Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates something that’s unique about Yahweh: what’s important to us matters to Him. Other Gods in ancient times usually cared less about what humans needed, much less what they wanted. God’s willingness to talk with Abraham shows that He’s involved with our welfare and takes us seriously. It also shows God doesn’t believe in collateral damage, when He’s willing to spare the town for the sake of a small handful of innocent people. But God isn’t Santa Claus, and He doesn’t let us try to control Him. He lives up to the bargain He made with Abraham (something else that didn’t happen in other mythologies), but goes through with His plan because that’s what needs to be done for the best of all. He also gets the one innocent family out of there.
When we look at the Lord’s Prayer, we look at the model of what all our prayer should be. It starts with acknowledging who He is and who’s priorities are important. “Your Kingdom come/Your Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. . .” is a pretty strong statement, and puts everything in God’s hands. It’s tempting to imagine what we think God’s Kingdom should look like and want that to happen, but putting God’s will first means putting our own second. Asking to be forgiven as we forgive those who wrong us is a pretty high bar as well, and frightening.
However we make this prayer knowing that God loves us and gives us what we need, especially the strength to cope with life as it happens. Saying this prayer and meaning it is putting ourselves and our future completely in God’s hands, unconditionally. When we think about what we’re asking for ourselves, it’s pretty sparse and general: forgiveness, our daily needs (such as food), freedom from temptation (which we find well enough on our own), deliverance from evil. One part of a lot of our prayers that isn’t here is things we find very elegant ways to say from time to time: give me what I want, do what I want, change people I don’t like or agree with, make me happy. Just like Ralphie, our selfish wants are the biggest obstacle to our happiness.
Happiness is something God gives us anyway, and if we don’t find it, it’s because we’re not looking for it in the right place. We subvert ourselves when we stray from the Lord’s Prayer, and expect God to be Santa Claus, withdrawing our trust in Him when He isn’t like that. Our selfish expectations are what make us unhappy and disappointed, and the antidote to that is better conforming our prayer to the Lord’s Prayer.
Our God gives us our nourishment here and now in the Eucharist. He sends us Christ to become part of us, to remind us of His love and care, to energize us to be part of the Kingdom we pray for. “Thy Kingdom come” is something that happens through us; we aren’t just supposed to say those words, but live them. The Lord’s Prayer isn’t just the model of our daily prayer, our relationship with our God, but the model of our imitation of Christ. The Lord’s Prayer is best prayed through our everyday living.