How to Pray Like Mister Rogers

Children’s TV star Fred Rogers was the real deal when it came to charm and humility. Here are three things he knew about prayer.

Posted in , Jul 24, 2018

Fred Rogers

My wife and I recently spent an evening watching the surprise hit documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  about children’s TV star Fred Rogers. How wonderful to remember the charm, the humility, the authenticity of Mister Rogers. He was the real deal. Here’s what he knew about prayer:

1)  Give up all judgments
Fred Rogers was ordained a Presbyterian minister. Once as a seminary student he heard one of the worst sermons imaginable. Before he could share any of his unspoken criticism the woman sitting next turned with tears in her eyes and said, “That preacher said exactly what I needed to hear.”

As he pointed out, she had listened to the sermon in need, not in judgment. And she was the one who had grown from the experience.

In church my instinct is usually to critique a sermon, my head full of comments (if I’m not dozing) like “Where did that come from?” “What verse are you referring to?” “Isn’t that what most people say?” But to listen, to really listen to someone means giving up all those judgmental thoughts.

Listen closely to someone and you will see how valued they are, how loved by God.

2)  Honor silence
The seemingly shocking thing you notice about the show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is how wonderfully, reassuringly, amazingly slow it was. Mister Rogers wasn’t afraid of silence. In one remarkable episode he decided to show exactly how long—how delightfully long—one minute is. He put up a timer, set it for one minute and let the TV camera roll.

The world is a noisy place. Our heads can be noisy places, full of more thoughts than we know what to do with. People will say, You need to listen to God as you pray. How can you do that without getting silent?

On TV this kindly man showed just how. Slow down. Listen. Wait. With people he had all the time in the world.

3)  Your own pain can be your strength.
Mister Rogers allowed himself to be vulnerable.

Tom Junod wrote a remarkable profile of Fred Rogers for Esquire magazine and was in the documentary talking about the man. But one story he didn’t retell was when Rogers met a boy who could only communicate by computer because of his cerebral palsy.

Mister Rogers asked the boy if he could do something very special for him, a big favor. Could he pray for Mister Rogers? Of course he would. He was stunned to even be asked.

Afterwards Junod commented on the favor Fred had done for the boy, a kid who was always the recipient of prayer, who was always seen as the needy one. How typically kind.

“Oh, heavens no Tom!” Rogers replied. “I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him. I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”

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