Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prayers of Petition: Thank you Ameer Abdullah

I walked into class today, the San Francisco Giants 8-0 win fresh on my mind and said to my student "well, I guess your prayer was not in vain." Twenty-four hours earlier, this high school senior prayed for the "Pittsburgh Pirates fans, after they lose." It was tough to summon a collective "Lord, hear our prayer." I thought by senior year, students would be more familiar with how we hold and offer our prayers of petition. It was awkward and it was inappropriate because it was presumptuous and insincere, but it was also an invitation. It was a reminder. How do we pray? How ought we?
This is who we prayed for in class on game day.
Whenever something uncomfortable or challenging presents itself in class, I stop to ask myself how could it have been different. Do young people understand the power and purpose of petitionary prayer? Do they trust that when we offer our prayers out loud with a community that we in turn hear, hold and offer those prayers to God as well? And that doing so makes a difference? These are questions I intend to sit with; I have work to do. I know my colleagues would agree.

But one approach I believe in and live by is that we can help someone understand something by pointing to excellence. For example, when I return papers, I always have two students who wrote outstanding essays share them with the class. Their peers identify why its strong; we know excellence when we see it!

This is what we are working toward!
On the cross country team, I can't get girls to complete 10 push-ups to save my life! I encourage them weekly to set a small goal for themselves. Rather than completing 10 "girl" push-ups, I say (on repeat) aim to do 3 "real" ones. I find the athlete with perfect form and have her model what that looks like. Good form and a good goal. Let's do this! Prayer need not be any different.

Fortunately, I had a thoughtful and fresh example at my fingertips.  A former student sent me the article about a devout Muslim football player, Ameer Abdullah. The ESPN article Ameer Abdullah Makes His Way shares the story of this impressive young man, a running back at the University of Nebraska. In Sports and Spirituality, my students look at the spiritual disciplines of many athletes. Abdullah's commitment to fasting during Ramandan is impressive, but so is his approach to prayer.
He says, "I say a little prayer before every game, wishing myself, my teammates and the opposing teammates the best of luck, asking the Lord to help us use our talents just to glorify him [and] not to be selfish or self-motivated today, just to let our talents glorify him and keep us safe from injury, to allow us to go out and show everything we've worked for the week before." Simple. Authentic and worth sharing. 
#8, Ameer Abdullah
I want my students to know that all of our prayers can be worthy prayers. We can come to God with anything and we should. I also hope they know we can ask others to pray for us at all times and in many different ways. But it's wise to offer said prayers with thought and sincerity.

So, as the Giants take on the Nationals in the National League Division Series, I would like to ask God to help all the athletes use their talents to glorify him. Keep them safe from injury. Let the fruits of their labor bring joy to all those who watch the game. And for the fans, keep your communities safe and give thanks for baseball in October. Amen.

Photo Credits
Committed Fan


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