PRAYER IS A LIFE-LONG EXPERIENCE
I do not remember word for word the first prayers that my mother and grandmother taught me in German. It had something to do with me being small and that my little heart needed cleaning before Jesus could live in it. There was some thing mystic and mysterious about it. It had something to do with my being good, obedient and punctual. I had dreams, hopes and wishes that were attached to my childhood prayers and directed at a “Being” that could only be reached through a man called, “Jesus,” who was the Son of God. I would do that in the morning and in the evening. If I did something that might not have pleased the adults, I prayed more often and longer.
At the age of five and older, I played with neighboring children that prayed to different people, like “Mary” and other dead people that were holy. My first school experience was in Polish, and we were praying for the well-being of Poland and its leaders, and we were praying to God to punish our enemies, the Germans. It did not take long; when I, too, was regarded as an enemy, for not being a Pole. The Russians rescued us from being exterminated and they shipped us off to the Germans and Hitler put us to work on Polish farms. The Russians brought in teachers from Germany who were not altogether convinced of what they were instructed to teach us. They did not report some of the things we said that could have hurt us. My tongue did slip and the teacher simply smiled. She did pray with us to Hitler, for military success and to a, “one thousand years reign of The Third Reich.” We had to stand at attention, when we entered the classroom, and left it by raising our right hand and say “Heil Hitler.” The Nazi attire, discipline and success impacted our young lives, and I, too, had become a dedicated Boy Scout leader of two troops, ready to fight for our Fuehrer and Fatherland which belonged to the Poles. I dreamed of becoming a flashy officer in the German army. Fortunately, that prayer never became a reality. Again, thanks to the Russians who altered my wishes by driving us into West Germany.
Germany had lost the war and people were licking their wounds and mourned over their dead fathers, sons and daughters. Their prayers were desperation prayers seeking out ways to survive. Wondering where the next loaf of bread would come from became almost an impossible task. I still had a horse and hauled mostly mothers from the railroad station to a large farm community, where these mothers sold themselves to feed their children. On their way back, we had to elude the German guards the Americans had placed at the border. The railroad was in the British Zone, and the farmers were in the USA Zone. These German guards were not as lenient as the English or Americans. These bread-seekers had prayers for change, better days and for vengeance against each other and the outsiders. They called me a “Pollack.” They never accepted me into their world. They prayed to get rid of the refugees and displaced people by the Russians, Poles and Checks. We, the intruders, prayed for a place where we could permanently settle. Of course, such a place was not available.
We were more fortunate and we were able to settle on a portion of a huge farm that was divided into six parts. We were assisted by the government to buy the sixth portion from the German government. At least, we again could raise our food. It was the biggest answer to our prayers we had in a long time. We lost our free and clear home and land in Eastern Poland in 1939 and could assume a fully mortgaged home and land in West Germany in 1950. It was an enormous blessing. God did not dump it into our laps. Father ran his legs off and we had to prove to the Land Office that we would farm in perpetuity. The Germans did not hand out things to squatters. In case father could not continue, then I had to stay on the farm or another child.
These six settlers expressed thanks for being selected out of so many and they even became the envy of the local people. There was thanks to God but even more so to the two men that came to our rented shack and interviewed us for their project. They put us on salaries while we build our homes and stables. There was only one mansion on that place and it was intended for another purpose. This organization was my only employer which paid me a wage. For fifteen and one half years I worked for my father without pay and four and one half years I worked a Polish farm to raise food for the German army with four employees, also without pay. I am thankful to these people that took orders from a ten year old because my father was never around and my mother was too ill to take charge. I even had to get the midwife for two of my sisters that were eleven and thirteen years younger than I. We had to hitch a horse to a wagon and drive some distance to get the Lady to deliver my sisters. These were my prayers in desperation and fear. They remind me of the time, when we hid every night somewhere else, just to stay alive. What gratitude we felt when things turned out all right!
Prayer had become part of my experience. Things that happened helped me interpret the very purpose of prayer. Prayer was not intended to fully rely on someone else; even God to deliver us, but on our constant attempt to avoid being trapped by things that could hurt us. This, of course, does not mean that God was not assisting us. I had very close calls with death and I knew that my life was in God’s hands; but because of prayer, I assisted the Lord with many others to do everything humanly possible to stay alive. I was not just praying for protection or healing, I did something about it to help myself. Prayer, even a whisper, helped me to ready myself every morning to face the adversities of the day. My greatest adversity was to re-enter life, after a fire robbed my physical ability to earn a living and my looks, to please the eyes of a lady that would be willing to share my damaged life. Yes, I had reasons to pray and prayer became part of my experience. I was tested and found that I could not live without praying. Without experience, prayer has had little meaning for me. I simply took it for granted.
It was years before, I had another experience, that revived the need to view prayer from a different perspective. I had not stopped praying in between. I was a pastor and prayed a lot related to my duties; but, these prayers were different. Prayer took another turning point, when we lost a grandchild and when cancer looked me in the face some eighteen years ago. I have not been the same since and neither have my prayers or my views on God’s dealing with us. Experience has not distanced me from God, but brought me to a different understanding of prayer. Perhaps I was too involved with preaching, and not quite enough with living. I rediscovered that old experience in living with difficulties and trials at my side. It is not the physical pain that is constantly with us; but, the knowledge that we are headed in the wrong direction and can do nothing to stop it. And it is not, that we do not pray enough; but, that we have ceased to watch where our experience is taking us. When we repeat certain behaviors with constant failure, we should have made some attempt to change direction. Unfortunately, no such insight is scaring mankind.
Prayer, for me, has been a constant inward look that asks the questions about myself, before it focuses on others. I am blessed with a mate that endlessly reminds me, why I do not do what I expect of others to do? The answer to my prayers lies within me, and not with someone else. Most of my requests are, not based on common sense, but on selfish needs, regardless as to who gets hurt. It is not realistic that I should be granted privileges because I am weak and humble or I am different. Prayer reminds me to be no one other than myself, and about what I ought to do and not what others can do for me. Prayer that only wants and never gives remains unanswered. The best teacher on how to pray has been and is my experience. It reminds me that prayer is a link with heaven and with life.