How to Pray like a Child at Play

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t pray nearly as much as we could. It’s not that we don’t believe in prayer; it’s that prayer can seem so…boring. If you’re like me, you’ve probably gone through seasons where you’ve spent more time reading about prayer than actually praying. It’s embarrassing: the eternal God condescends to be known by us, to know us, and we…yawn.

When we’re honest, I think one reason why so many of us find prayer so easy to avoid is because we forget that to pray is to create. If your prayer life is in a lull, I want to invite you to rediscover the power of imagination, and by “imagination” I do not mean drifting off into la-la land. I mean a creative effort. It’s time to get on your knees, pull out the Crayolas of your soul, and to start scribbling.

At first, a blank page can be overwhelming. Jesus knew it would be. And that’s why he gave us the first ever Prayer Coloring Book: the Pater Noster, the Lord’s Prayer. By learning how to color inside these lines, we’ll learn how to make the dullest, grayest moments an outburst of creative energy, holy praising, desperate grieving, audacious asking, resting. Friends, it’s time to learn how to pray in colors rich and enduring. “Because when you are imaging,” says Anne of Green Gables, “you might as well imagine something worthwhile.”

Scope for the imagination

To pray is to create—to bring a conversation with God into being where there would have otherwise been nothing, at least on your end—and pre-written prayers like the Pater Noster are a good place start. You don’t have to be the spiritual equivalent of a Giotto or Michelangelo. Anyone can pray in reds and blues and greens and oranges. God owns the copyright on color, and he gives it away for free.

When we pray, an enormous creative effort is happening, just beneath the surface of our awareness. Our Father, who art in Heaven. Unbidden, an assumption, almost like a curtain, hangs in the background, this family, this great army, this “we” with whom we are saying “our Father.” Lightning-fast, an image flashes before us: a bearded man, perhaps, or a hot metaphysical glow, or a Zeus-like warrior wrapped in thunder. The Father. He’s not just anywhere. He’s in Heaven, a city shooting out of the clouds like a thousand golden trumpets standing upright in the sunlight, just waiting to be played. It’s Gondor, planet Pandora, Ireland, New York to the umpteenth degree except baptized. Our Father, who art in Heaven.

The next line races down the tracks straight at us. Hallowed, hallowed, hallowed. It shoots into the tunnels of our minds in a puff of smoke. Cabin by cabin, we assimilate it. Hallowed. Be. Thy. Name. And then, nothing. Enveloped in the luminous darkness, time stands still. There’s not a sound. And then, with a crash, just beneath the surface of our consciousness, the line bursts out of the tunnel and we see a thousand paintings, ten thousand cathedrals, and we’ve only just begun to pray the Pater Noster.

Unless, of course, we are not using our imaginations. Prayer is about as exhilarating as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance if you’re praying in black-and-white, and not in color. If you have no imagination, why are you surprised that your prayers are as exciting as filling out paperwork at the DMV? It’s not enough to pray the Rosary or the Pater Noster if you’re simply repeating what you’ve been told like a clenched fist inside a sock puppet. You can hardly pay attention to what you’re saying.

Be like a little child, a child at play. And if you’ve ever seen a child playing—like, really playing—you know it is deadly serious. Genuine play is no stroll around the Monopoly board. It’s real, more real than most of us can handle.

A pre-written prayer like the Pater Noster, then, does not suck the spontaneity or genuineness out of our prayer experience. The written prayer guides the way we imagine, but it does not determine it. A play begins with a playwright writing a script, but it is the director who brings that script to life. Your imagination is the director of this script, your heart is the stage, and your imagination is the play. But this is not a performance: this is a prayer. And you are praying for an audience of one—God.

In the end, only boring people think prayer is boring. They’ve turned off the lights in their hearts, leaving “no scope for the imagination.” In the end, if imagination is just impossible for you, there’s always the warm encouragement from Anne of Green Gables, “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

The Secret Ingredient

The secret ingredient to prayer is the Holy Spirit. You can follow all the days of the liturgical year, memorize all the collects, pray the Rosary every day, and if the Holy Spirit is not praying in and through you, it’s nothing. There is only one prayer, the prayer of the Son to the Father. And everyone who has been baptized into the Son has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who lifts us up into the eternal prayer of the Son to his Father.

God is the beginning and end of prayer. He is the wind in our sails. He is the safe passage and he is the harbor. He is the Creator from whom all good creativity flows. And the Creator did not give you creativity so you could squander it on the false gods of money, comfort, or the latest fashion. He gave you creativity so you could enjoy him and glorify him forever. Creativity was made for prayer, and to pray is to create.

Whether you are before the Blessed Sacrament, at your bedside, gathered around your family table, or just finishing up reading yet another blog about prayer, it’s always a good time to pull out the pastels of your heart, the watercolors of your soul, and to pray to the God of the universe. Our Father, who art in Heaven…

Tyler Blanski


Tyler Blanski is praying for a holy renaissance. He is the author of When Donkeys Talk: Rediscovering the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity (Zondervan, 2012) and Mud & Poetry: Love, Sex, and the Sacred (Upper Room Books, 2010).

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Louis Oliver Bruchez

    Comes at a wonderful time, thank you! I have a wonderful wandering imagination, but to reign it in and direct it to the work of prayer, that’s the ticket!

  • BillinJax

    We’re on to something here Tyler. Made be think of another little article we penned a while back.

    Seeking the Graces of God our Father through the Joy of Prayer

    There is nothing we can ever do that is better for ourselves and mankind than turning our attention to our Infinite God humbly in thanksgiving, offering our lives and our work and praising him for his. But the problem is that we often without realizing it permit our finite thoughts and activities or work to overcome us by thinking we are or can become anything more than simply a child of the Father we call God.

    We must first realize and accept that being his child is quite enough for anyone. What more could you want than that? For heavens sake,is that not the greatest thing you could imagine, being the offspring of the God of the universe? Once you take the time to put your arms around that truth you can begin to understand just what you are, where you are, and gain control of your thoughts in order to properly direct the life graciously given to you by your FATHER.

    Jesus, the one you call Lord, the one you hope to follow, the one who teaches us, the one who was sent from the Father to redeem us from our confusion and sin first and always acted, taught, prayed and worked …in the name of the Father. The business of His Father was all he ever had on his mind and he could not wait to begin being involved in it even as a child.

    Do you really think there is a better thing to do with your life than what Jesus did with his? It is good that we try to follow the lead of Christ in our daily lives giving help to those in need and spreading the message of truth and love, mercy and forgiveness. But never ever forget that what Christ said or did and the message he gave was that of the Father through their Holy Spirit. This is the same spirit which he sent to his church at Pentecost and through the disciples on to us after he returned to the Father.

    Understanding this we, like Christ, recognize it is the Father’s work we too must be doing and as such we report to him, we go to him for instruction, we ask him for help, and we praise and thank him for our being. How wonderful it is to know and be known by the one who Christ addressed as our Father (who is) in heaven and what power and majesty he possesses and that he knows each and every one of us by name and all he asks is that we acknowledge Him for who He is. This is the secret that leads us to the joy of personal prayer.

    Through the works he preformed, our master the Teacher came humbly in human form into our world with great love to gather and instruct us. He proved to all to be God among us as the Spirit had named him at the time of His conception. Thus our merciful and almighty God revealed through the Incarnation He would in love go so far as to become human…. for our sake. Now, that same Spirit of Love at Pentecost came to the disciples, and through them, to all humanity to give us the guidance, strength, and courage to go forth in His name accepting the challenge with our lives to do on earth the work and
    will of the Father …. for His sake.

    Our own spirit, made in the image of our creator, now calls upon our humility before the God of the universe, our own Father, to accept this relationship and realize we are not alone anymore. We have all the backing we will ever need to live our life in peace no matter what the challenges of this world sends our way. Know that your ever loving mercifully forgiving always available Father is eternally in control.

    It all comes down to this. We have in Christ through the Divine LOVE of the Father for mankind the armor for the battle against the Evil One who was able in the beginning to convince the first of mankind they were designed to be more than the simple beloved children of the living God. The Deceiver, a more powerful spirit than man but no match for the creator, proved to be a kidnapper of the Fathers children hoping to lie and make all who would join him captives of corruption. Jesus, the very Word and Truth of the Father was mercifully sent to dispel the lie and reclaim the misguided, lost and
    stolen for Him. All those who will believe in Him, regardless of their errors, are welcome to return home with Christ to the love and protection of the Father who alone can give eternal comfort to their spirit. Those who chose not to believe and reject the love of the Father will be lost forever along with the Evil One who despises the Truth.

    Pray then, as Jesus always did, to your Father in heaven seeking his help and guidance as any obedient child would do knowing how much they are loved. Be mindful always that the Father gives solutions not as this world would conceive but as His eternal Truth would in justice have it. Trust, as Jesus did, that what you ask and what you seek within the Divine Will of our all knowing and loving Father, in his time and with his wise judgment, shall be granted to you.

    This surrender to Truth will set your heart free in humility and honor to approach the One who loves you. That heart, at ease with our almighty Father, before it even begins to speak will hear his voice saying …Peace to you my child…I hear your prayer.. our burdens are lifted, and our life and prayer become Joy.

  • Cooky642

    You hit that nail on the head, Louis! I’ve always had a vivid imagination, but have been afraid to let it run wild in prayer for fear of where it might go! I see, now, that it needs discipline but otherwise is not so dangerous as I had thought. Meanwhile, ABBA waits for me….. Thank you. Merry Christmas!