Q: I remember reading an article of yours that said there are four things we say to God. I sort of remember one of them was “oops,” but I don’t recall the others. Appreciate any clarification you can provide. Thanks!
— J, via email
A: You are referring to the way I teach about praying to children. I explain to kids that even though there are millions and millions of prayers that go to God every day, there are only four kinds of prayers. Every prayer that has ever been prayed is one of four types: thanks, gimme, oops and wow!
This is how I explain them to kids:
Thanks prayers are the prayers in which you thank God for some good thing you already have in your life.
We pray thanks prayers to help us remember that everything we get in our lives is really a gift from God. We have minds to study and we did not give ourselves our minds. We live in a place where we are free to do what we want with our lives and we did not give ourselves that place. We are alive and we did not make ourselves alive. We are loved and we did not make people love us. When you really think about it, everything in our lives is a gift, which means we got it with help from somebody else. Just because we did something or earned something does not mean we did it alone. We get things from helpers but God is the one who helped our helpers, and that is why we say thanks prayers to God.
If the only kind of prayer you ever say are thanks prayers, it will be enough for God.
Gimme prayers are the prayers where you ask God to give you something you need but don’t have now.
There are bad and there are good gimme prayers.
Bad gimme prayers are prayers where you ask God for something you don’t have but don’t really need. Most of the gimme prayers for stuff are bad gimme prayers. God is not the manager of a store that ships you stuff when you order them in a prayer. If you want something you should earn it.
So what about the good gimme prayers?
One of the best gimme prayers is a prayer where you ask God for something for somebody else. If someone you love is sick and you pray to God to help him or her get better, that is a good gimme prayer because it is not about you.
A good gimme prayer that is about you is when you pray to God to help you not be afraid. Knowing that God loves you and is with you always helps keep you from being scared. God will help you not be afraid of anything every time you pray a good gimme prayer.
Oops prayers are those in which you say you are sorry to God for something you did that you should not have done.
Nobody is perfect. Nobody can go through life without making mistakes. Oops prayers are what we say to God when we just messed up.
By saying we are sorry to God we get ready to say we are sorry to the person we hurt. When we pray an oops prayer to God we are asking God to forgive us and this makes it easier for us to ask the people we have hurt to forgive us.
So remember that the only cure for messing up is oops!
Wow! prayers are prayers in which you tell God that something in the world is really awesome.
Wow! prayers come from the times when you see or hear or taste or smell or touch or learn or feel something so wonderful or big or beautiful or amazing that you just have to say, “Wow!” People used to use the word awe or awesome, but Wow! means the same as awesome to me.
Many Wow! prayers come from seeing something in nature. Rainbows and beautiful sunsets, tall mountains and deep valleys, clear water and big waves, roaring rivers and crashing waterfalls, loud thunder and crackling lightning, tall trees and colorful leaves, herds of animals and flocks of birds, colorful fish and scary sharks, crazy-looking insects and spooky bats — seeing all these things in nature makes us say, “Wow!” Nature is just full of wow stuff. Mostly the wow in nature comes from the beauty in nature. Things in the world are so beautiful it is just awesome. Sometimes the wow in nature comes from how big it is and how small we are. Nature is full of wow.