Molly sat by Jesus every night at dinner. He had His own chair and place setting. And the whole family greeted Him nightly. “Come Lord Jesus. Be our Guest”. One night Molly had her own greeting. “Jesus! You are so rude! You just sit there and never say a stinkin’ thing!” The shocked adults all laughed and rolled their eyes.
I read this story 20 years ago. In a magazine column of stories sent in by parents. I think God wanted me to meet this girl. Her candor jump-started my prayer life.
Her honest prayer exposed just how superficial my own prayers were. I did pray. But if I'm honest, I was never very honest with God. I rarely said what I actually felt. A painful crisis made it difficult to trust His heart. So I didn’t trust Him with mine.
Yet like Molly’s family, I still prayed. Daily. My own version of ‘Come Lord Jesus’. But prayer wasn’t personal or conversational. And I didn't expect Him to talk back.
To the adults, the Jesus plate is just a visual aid. The empty Jesus chair is exactly that. Empty. Yet I can’t judge them. I’ve rolled my eyes too. At the same faith I once had myself. I knew He was with me. Until I grew up and decided He wasn’t.
How we interpret setbacks or suffering will either deepen our faith or weaken it. A disillusioned mind can talk my heart out of believing what I ‘know’ to be true. I was in this confused state of mind around the time I discovered Molly’s story. After repeated disappointments, my heart grew weary of trusting. And praying.
Molly convicts me. Not just how she prayed but that she prayed at all. If God is silent, so am I. I talk about God but not to Him. For His silence feels like absence. Which feels more real than His presence. He who comes to God must believe He is. The reverse is also true. If I think He isn’t here, I won’t come. Much less pray.
When our oldest daughter Stacey announced to us that she was pregnant, we all reacted with surprise and joy. But what my son Bryce did caught us off guard. He instantly jumped up and ran to Stacey, knelt down and spoke to her unborn child. ‘Hello little one! We’re so happy you’re in our family! We can’t wait to meet you!’
Bryce’s response reminded us that a baby was in the room. Molly reminds me that Jesus is here too. Unlike the adults, His invisibility didn’t affect her faith. She just didn’t like His silence. A silence I won’t try to defend. Jesus doesn’t need me to. Besides, I couldn’t anyway. Knowing He’s here 24-7, His silence bothers me too.
The point isn’t whether Jesus was actually rude. The point is she felt like He was. So she told Him so. She felt safe enough and loved enough to say what she felt. I find her candor with God refreshing. I think God does too. He's a parent. So I'm sure He’d prefer we vent our angst than recite rote prayers from insincere hearts.
I like Molly’s prayer because her words convey what’s really going on inside her. I’m an appeaser. I say what you want to hear or what I think you’ll like. I present the me I want you to see. The real me can’t risk being seen. Afraid he might lose your love. What’s silly is I do this with God when I pray. As if He doesn’t see me.
We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us. C.S. Lewis
If I can’t be real with you, I won’t talk much if at all. Same with God. Nothing will end a conversation like worrying over whether or not I’m saying what I should. If that’s my goal, I won’t speak from the heart. And it’s my heart He wants to hear.
I was 40 when I found Molly’s story. I wanted to be like her. Not the adults who laughed. I criticized them for settling for empty ritual. Rolling their eyes at faith.
Now 20+ years later I ran across her story in my journal. It stings to read it again. For I’m still more like the adults than Molly. Not that I don’t pray. I do. Everyday. But the heart to hearts are rare. The Jesus chair isn’t empty. But it feels empty.
The first time I stopped praying because of disappointments I didn’t understand. But now I’m just preoccupied. Without realizing it, I simply left the conversation. I know I can’t lose God’s presence, but I can lose my awareness of it. And I have
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it”. And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!” Genesis 28:16 – 17
Molly was acutely aware of His presence. So much so that she listened for Him. In her I see a younger me. A boy who walked with God in simple childlike faith.
I want it back! My grownup version doesn’t cut it. I want an unadulterated faith! Where I talk as if He’s really here and listening. And listen as if He’s here to talk.
I don’t know why God doesn’t speak more often or more clearly like He used to. But I know this. The Jesus chair was never empty. His grave? Yes. The chair next to His girl. Never. Nor is the chair next to me. But unlike me, Molly believed it.
Also unlike me, she didn’t stop talking when He did. I don’t like it either if God is silent. But do I tell Him? No. I go silent too. If I’m mad at God, I grumble or hold a grudge. But I seldom voice the anger I feel. Not Molly. If she doesn’t hear from God, you can bet He’ll hear from her. To talk that freely is what good friends do.
Where is your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion is withheld from us. Yet you are our Father… Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down! Isaiah 63:15, 64:1
That’s a ‘Molly prayer’. I could see God rending the heavens for a faith like that! And if He doesn’t, I can see her saying ‘Hey! I know you’re here and I know you care. So what’s up with the silent treatment! Don’t treat me like this! Show up!”
Her candor may feel improper. But God prefers honesty over pretense or silence. So why do I still not open up? I think I settle for silence or rote prayers because I believe a lie that He can’t be trusted. I don’t feel safe enough to speak my heart.
But what if it’s my picture of God and my unsafe feelings that can’t be trusted?
What if God loves me far more than my ‘grown up faith’ can believe? In spite of my sin and failure. What if His silence is not proof of His absence? But rather an opportunity to experience His presence and love in a way I couldn’t otherwise.
What if He was in His chair? Hearing Molly’s rant. Loving her because of it. Even loving the adults who ‘knew better’. In spite of their distance and rote prayers.
Molly relates to Jesus in a way I used to. In a way I hope to recapture again. He really is her best friend. As real as the chair He sits in. And as kind as she thinks He is. No wonder she feels safe. Being next to Jesus is the safest place on earth.
But if I refuse to trust God, all I can trust is people or myself. And people will fail us and my heart knows it can’t be trusted. It's why I feel unsafe. And why I won’t pray. I feel unsafe because I'm in a storm and my only hope is a lighthouse I don’t trust.
Molly's faith helps her be honest. She clearly feels safe enough and loved enough to be herself with God. If you feel safe with a friend, the words flow easily. With no fear of being ignored, shamed or cut off. It’s why Molly could tell God He’s rude.
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away. Dinah Craik
This is prayer: a heart-to-heart with a friend I trust. The place of prayer is a tent of meeting. Where God and friend meet and talk freely. Where it’s safe to be me.
Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp... calling it the 'tent of meeting'. As Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Exodus 33:7,9,11
So how do friends speak to each other? Freely. Honestly. From the heart.
Moses said to the LORD, “Why are you treating me so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Numbers 11:11
Reflection: Write God a prayer. Starting with 'Could I be honest God?'