How I Learned to Pray from a Russian Jewish Peasant

Albrecht Dürer - Study of an Apostle's Hands (Praying Hands) - WGA07062: pray

Albrecht Dürer – Study of an Apostle’s Hands

How did you learn to pray?

I learned from a Russian Jewish peasant named Tevye.

I grew up in a household in which God and religious beliefs were not discussed.

The church I attended as a child specialized in formalized prayer–and I learned those because I was interested in God.

But I had questions about how to pray–the where and how–that were not answered by a tight-lipped parent raising children in a decided non-God discussing household.

So I was left to myself, mostly.

As a teenager, I met Jesus as a personal savior at a Lutheran church, which was much better about prayer, including what I considered “freelance” prayer–spoken aloud without a script.

I listened and tried to adapt, but had trouble figuring out just how and with what attitude I could pray with the God who had come alive in such an extraordinary way in my life.

I found my answer in a stage play made into a movie, Fiddler on the Roof, which you can see in the first one minute of this clip:

I love how Tevye addresses God. He’s natural, practical, to the point and chats with the easy familiarity of someone who has walked with God a long time.

He’s expressing his faith within a Jewish context, of course, but it’s real and in my life has been just as applicable.

I talk to God the same way, with a sense of irony, occasional desperation, humor, pleas and confidence I’m heard by the God who created me just this way.

I shared this ideas with our youth group last week, hoping to impress upon them that prayer is a conversation with God.

I asked them some questions about this clip:

How does Tevye address God?

What is his attitude?

Is he irreverent?

If you were God, how would you respond to him?

What can we learn about prayer from this man?

Finding Different Words

They struggled with these questions, but sat up straighter as I had them read select passages from Eugene Peterson‘s paraphrase The Message. the_message_2; pray

(They laughed when I pointed out another Bible study teacher at our church refers to Peterson’s version as “the dude Bible.”)

Philippians 4:6-7

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.”

Psalm 145:18:

“God’s there, listening for all who pray for all who pray and mean it.”

1 John 5:14:

“How bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he’s listening.”

My point to those young people was when they went to pray, I wanted them to be honest like Tevye–to tell God all that was on their hearts, even if it was ridiculous (“Could I have a parking place?”), or you are angry (“Why did this happen to me?”), or if you wanted to complain (“I don’t understand how you could let this happen.”).

If you pattern some of your method of prayer after Tevye’s intimacy–that you can tell God anything–the words flow better, and your ears may be better able to see when he answers.

At least that’s what I learned from watching  a Russian Jewish peasant pray.


How I learned to pray from Fiddler on the Roof Click to Tweet

Tevye and Eugene Peterson: prayer tutors Click to Tweet

Teaching teenagers to pray to God with intimacy Click to Tweet

The Writer’s Dime

writer's dime

We received an extraordinary gift recently: a writer’s dime. It came from our friend Bill who had given great thought into the gift. As a coin collector, he had heard a story and went in quest of the writer’s dime. When he found it, he brought it and the tale to us. A terrific gift. I […]

Continue Reading

Writer/Editor Spotlight: Becky Miller

Becky Miller

I’m asked occasionally about the writing life and editors. Today I’m interviewing a friend from both worlds: Becky Miller. Becky Miller and I met ten years ago at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference when we were in the same critique group (facilitated by the wonderful Gayle Roper). Our eight-member critique group spent four days together […]

Continue Reading

Sunbonnets: 2015 Pleasure or 1875 Necessities?


Even though I grew up in Southern California, I never gave a thought to wearing a sunbonnet. In those days, we frolicked in the sunshine and watched our hair sun-bleach and our skin turn brown. Some of us got freckles but no one would be caught dead in a sunbonnet. It’s different now, and it […]

Continue Reading

Thank you, Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliot

One of my spiritual mentors died on June 15: Elisabeth Elliot. I first “met” her through books years ago when I was a young wife and before children were added to the chaotic mix of my life. Another Navy wife friend introduced us and I read everything she wrote. She spoke in pragmatic terms through […]

Continue Reading
%d bloggers like this: