I’ve discovered that a minor change can make a major impact. What change is that? you ask. Change the pronouns.
That’s right. Change the first-person plural pronouns to first-person singular and see if it doesn’t make your reading feel more personal. Of course, this can happen only in restricted circumstances. The one I’m thinking about has to do with the prayers I encounter every day.
Here’s what I mean: I use a devotional guide called The Upper Room Disciplines, a paperback book of daily devotional thoughts for the entire year. A different author writes the devotions for each week. For the most part, the last entry for each day is a one-or-two-sentence prayer (I say “for the most part” because recently, the author quoted from the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant instead of supplying a prayer), and, again, for the most part, those prayers are written in the first-person plural: “we,” “our,” “us,” etc.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: the prayer that ended the devotional reading for the day I’m writing this blog says, “Creator, forgive us for ignoring the groans of creation. May our confession swiftly lead us to acts of healing and a commitment to new ways of living that benefit all creation. Amen.” The prayer suddenly becomes more compelling and personal by making that one tiny change and replacing the plural pronouns with singular ones: “Creator, forgive me for ignoring the groans of creation. May my confession swiftly lead me to acts of healing and a commitment to new ways of living that benefit all creation. Amen.”
It’s one thing to pray as though we were lost in a crowd of people who may or may not feel all that committed to that which is being prayed for; quite another to separate oneself out of that crowd and personalize the prayer. Besides, when I pray “us” and “our,” I have really no idea who those others are or if they’re praying those words as earnestly as I am.
This little exercise really hits home when you make those substitutions in one of the most well-known and most frequently-offered prayers in history. Try this the next time you pray The Lord’s Prayer:
My Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me. And lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil, for thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
For me, anyway, that minor change makes a major difference.