Why Anne doesn’t say prayers, why Marilla says she should,
and why we ought to (or ought not to) pray
Part III in a series
By Mary Abrahamson
When Marilla took Anne up to bed that night she said stiffly:
“Now, Anne, I noticed last night that you threw your clothes all about the floor when you took them off. That is a very untidy habit, and I can’t allow it at all. As soon as you take off any article of clothing fold it neatly and place it on the chair. I haven’t any use at all for little girls who aren’t neat.” …
“Say your prayers now and get into bed.”
“I never say any prayers,” announced Anne.
Marilla looked horrified astonishment. …
“Why, Anne, what do you mean? Were you never taught to say your prayers? God always wants little girls to say their prayers. Don’t you know who God is, Anne?”
“‘God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,'” responded Anne promptly and glibly.
Marilla looked rather relieved.
“So you do know something then, thank goodness! You’re not quite a heathen. Where did you learn that?”
“At the asylum Sunday-school they made us learn the whole catechism. I liked it pretty well. There’s something splendid about some of the words. ‘Infinite, eternal and unchangeable.’ Isn’t that grand? It has such a roll to it—just like a big organ playing. You couldn’t quite call it poetry, I suppose, but it sounds a lot like it, doesn’t it?”
“We’re not talking about poetry, Anne—we are talking about saying your prayers. Don’t you know it’s a terrible wicked thing not to say your prayers every night? I’m afraid you are a very bad little girl.”…
“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair,” said Anne reproachfully. “People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is. Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red ON PURPOSE, and I’ve never cared about Him since. And anyhow I’d always be too tired at night to bother saying prayers. People who have to look after twins can’t be expected to say their prayers. Now, do you honestly think they can?”
Marilla decided that Anne’s religious training must be begun at once. Anne of Green Gables, Ch 7
This particular chapter of Anne of Green Gables, the entire chapter, is a work of literary art. It’s filled with the more obvious beauty and fun of Anne’s humor and spunk, countered with the equally wonderful cut-and-dried practicality of Marilla. There are also more subtle turns, too, of satire, metaphor, and hyperbole. It’s one of my very favorite chapters in all of literature.
But I am supposed to write short articles for this site. And the focus of this series is to analyze how Christianity is portrayed in literature and compare it to Biblical teaching.
I chose to start with this little snippet because it sets the tone for the ideas that come up in rest of the chapter. And it also sets the tone for some insights and attitudes about prayer that come out in later chapters and books of the series.
This little above excerpt doesn’t, however, have as much to consider and analyze as some of the shorter quips I’ll write about later. It’s is very fun to read, though, and it introduces us to both Anne’s training before she came to Green Gables, and also her attitude toward that religious training.
In the context of the story line, Marilla and Matthew have just decided to keep Anne rather than send her back to the orphan asylum. But Anne doesn’t know this yet. Marilla’s first step is to make sure Anne knows to pick up her things. “I haven’t any use at all for little girls who aren’t neat.” This reminded me of the old (non-Biblical) adage, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
(As an aside, I did a little reading on this truism, of course, on the internet… who knows if it’s accurate. The oldest forms of this quote are alleged to be from ancient Hebrew and Baylonian sources. Early English language versions include this one from Sir Francis Bacon, “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.” And John Wesley said in a sermon, “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.”)
But more to the point of Anne’s religious training, we see the catechization of young Anne, in that she knew or had memorized the parts of the Westminster Catechism. But poor Anne! There is something missing. She only knew the rote learning. Quips to rattle off!
For Anne the only good in the phrases from the catechism is that they were grand. Poetry. Something that sounded ethereal.
Marilla then slams a little Law at Anne, “ … it’s a terrible wicked thing not to say your prayers…you are a very bad little girl.”
Yes, I do think a child ought to say prayers, I know God commands us. And yes, Anne is very bad as we all are. But doesn’t it seem like Marilla’s declaration is a little heavy on the Law? Or the Law is used to an incorrect focus or reason?
Listen to the Word’s from Luther’s Catechism on why we pray, “God would hereby tenderly invite us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him with all boldness and confidence, as children ask their dear father.”
And then later, “Amen means that we should be sure that these petitions are acceptable to our Father in heaven and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us so to pray and has promised to hear us. Amen, Amen: that is, Yes, Yes, it shall be so.”
We indeed ought to pray. We want our children to pray. And like Marilla, we also need to train our children to pray.
Consider, though, your own prayers? Do you rattle them off mindlessly? Do you pray out of an attitude of fulfilling some rule or jumping through some hoop in order to “be good”? How do you present prayer to your children? How do you react when your child doesn’t pray at your prompting? Is prayer something you want your child to do in order to “be good.” Or is it a grateful response to God’s love and salvation? Like Marilla, we all sometimes use the gift of prayer, the privilege of coming to God as a duty or a good work.
Next we see more symptoms of Anne’s lack of training in Christianity, in spite of her ability to rattle off the catechism. Anne’s primary notion of how God has acted in her life is that of His having given her red hair. “Mrs. Thomas told me that God made my hair red ON PURPOSE, and I’ve never cared about Him since.”
I realize that this is satire. It’s written to amuse. And one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s gifts is the ability to draw a reader into the story line. And into the hearts of the characters. And so at this point, I find myself crying for little Anne. Crying for a girl who doesn’t know about all the good things God has done for her. She may be able to recite all of the parts of her catechism that talk about God’s providence and redemption. But all poor Anne knows of God’s work in her life is that bane of her existence, her red hair.
And finally, we see the excuse used by many of us. “I’d always be too tired at night to bother saying prayers. People who have to look after twins can’t be expected to say their prayers. Now, do you honestly think they can?”
We know from Anne’s earlier history that in one of her temporary homes she helped to look after three sets of twins. And she’s only a little snip of a girl. I’m sure she was genuinely tired by the time she fell into bed.
Next time I feel like I’m too tired to say my prayers, I’m going to think of poor Anne carrying around Mrs. Hammond’s three sets of twins.
Then I’m going to remember my Savior Jesus, who was never to tired to live a perfect life for me, and loved me enough to die on the cross to pay my debt of sin. I’m going to remember that my heavenly Father has commanded me to pray and promised to hear me. Then in a thankful response of faith, I’m going to offer my thanksgiving and petitions to Him, as an earthly child asks her earthly father.