“You don’t want me because I’m not a boy!” Oh, how this “tragical” line hits me in the gut every time. Poor Anne Shirley, the unwanted girl from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, was rejected wherever she went. Elderly siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert planned on adopting a boy to help on their farm. When Matthew arrived at the train station, he was surprised by this waif of a girl who chatted non-stop the entire ride home. After the complete shock of the mix-up, Marilla ends up keeping Anne on a trial basis but insists that she must obey the rules of the house. Putting her to bed on her first night at Green Gables, Marillia is stunned to discover that Anne has never prayed to God. Anne had refused to pray after she was told that God had made Anne’s hair red on purpose. Anne simply had “never cared about him since.”
There are so many in our broken world who think of God as the cause of the pain in their life. When we place blame on God, it separates us from his love and his community. Like Anne, we are tempted to ignore a relationship with God, as if we are punishing him. But in reality, when we ignore God, we only work to punish ourselves.
Thankfully, Marilla insists Anne kneel beside her bed and pray. Desiring to please Marilla and stay at Green Gables, Anne attempts a prayer musing that if she had complete freedom to pray, she would go deep into the woods and look up into the sky, “then I’d just feel a prayer. Well, I’m ready. What am I to say?” Anne’s poetic nature was shocking to poor Marilla. Anne’s first attempt at prayer was very formal, mimicking what she had heard in prayers before. Marilla had a realization that Anne, “knew and cared nothing about God’s love, since she had never had it translated to her through the medium of human love.”
With that introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, Anne’s world begins to change. No longer an unwanted orphan, she belongs to a family.
The next day, Marilla tells Anne they have decided to keep her. Anne’s bringing-up must first include some theological instruction, so a card with the Lord’s Prayer is given to Anne to memorize. Reading over the Lord’s Prayer, Anne is delighted, saying, “This isn’t poetry, but it makes me feel just the same way poetry does. ‘Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy name.’ That is just like a line of music. Oh, I’m so glad you thought of making me learn this, Miss—Marilla.”
And with that introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, Anne’s world begins to change. No longer an unwanted orphan, she belongs to a family.
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus invites them to pray as a group, not as individuals. He demonstrates that his father is their father, “Our Father.” These first two words remind us that we are not alone.
Martin Luther also wanted believers to think of prayer in this communal way. In the spring of 1535, Luther wrote a letter to his barber who had the same question as the disciples, “How are we to pray?” Luther’s response is a terrific step by step recommendation on how to pray through the Lord’s Prayer, the Commandments, the Creed, and other Biblical passages. If you’ve never read this short letter by Luther, it is a valuable quick read. One quote, in particular, is a beautiful reminder of how we should think of prayer, even when we are alone and feeling isolated:
Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you, and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, “Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.”
On July 11, I was able to taste this unity and oneness that comes with prayer. After months of courageous fighting against cancer, my brother-in-law Jeremy passed from life to death. The house was filled with family and loved ones. But his two boys, 4 and 7, were away when it happened. Not long after, before the boys returned to the house, I quickly called my friend, Ben, seeking pastoral advice. What a relief it is to have such reliable counsel during times of distress. He offered much gospel assurance and suggested a practice that he has found great comfort. He suggested gathering all the family together around the deathbed and joining in the Lord’s Prayer.
Saying the words of the prayer together meant that if my voice became too weak or shaky, other voices would be around to support and continue the message.
The boys were grief-stricken when my sister broke the news outside the house. They took their time to say their goodbyes, and then we all gathered together around the young family. It was challenging to speak, but saying the words of the prayer together meant that if my voice became too weak or shaky, other voices would be around to support and continue the message.
That day will always be a difficult and beautiful memory. It was a powerful picture that echoes the fact that we belong to God’s family because of the work of our brother and Savior, Jesus Christ. There are times that we might feel alone, like Anne Shirley, who goes from orphan to adopted. Paul speaks this truth in his letter to the Ephesians, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Eph 1:4b-5). And when we pray, just like Luther taught, we should never think we are praying alone, but praying with those who are in Christ. When we face those painful moments of pain, suffering, and even death, we can speak the words that Jesus taught us to pray, bringing us into unity with him and one another. “Our Father. Amen.”