I have two habits when I travel for work that people notice. (That I know of.)
One is my out of office messages, which do not say “I will be out of the office for business from x to x and will not be checking email. Contact y in an emergency.” That is so, so boring that I was convinced a few years ago that nobody ever reads these things. So I started using my out of office messages to explain what was going on in my work, where I was actually going, and why, what else was going on while I was away, or whatever. Sometimes I included links; some of them may have been to movie quotes. I get good feedback, mostly. Some people save my out of office messages in a special folder. Of all the ways to be famous, this has to be the very lamest.
Anyhoo, the other thing I do, usually, is ask my Facebook friends if they have anything they want me to pray for while I’m traveling. And on this trip, in between praying for those requests, I reflected on how I would answer the question “Why?” Why pray for others? And why ask Facebook friends for suggestions?
Here are some reasons that are not why I do this:
- It’s not because I am particularly good at or passionate about praying for others (or praying in general, for that matter).
- It’s not because I think I am especially holy or close to God.
- It’s not because I believe in fairies.
OK, on that last point. I’m referring to the climactic end of Peter Pan, which must have been on TV every year of my childhood. You may recall that Tinkerbell dies near the end, but Peter says if we all clap our hands and say we believe in fairies, she’ll come back to life. I cannot remember a time when I actually believed that, anymore than I believe the decibel readings on a stadium scoreboard when they are begging you to cheer. Fake news. Rigged. All of that. It was filmed before I was born. Clapping don’t matter. She will live anyway. (Did I still clap? Only always.)
In that vein, I don’t believe an omniscient God who loves each of us deeply needs me to remind him that one of his beloveds needs help. Nor do I believe God works like a GoFundMe site, where the victim with the best social network generates the most intercessions and thereby wins God’s favor.
I ask God for what my friends are asking for on behalf of their loved ones, and I ask God to carry them through whatever the resolution will be. I have enough humility to leave the door open that God might work a miracle, but I know a whole bunch of people whose miracles didn’t happen. And the God I know wouldn’t say “I didn’t come through like you asked because you and your friends didn’t clap loud enough.”
So why bother with intercessory prayer (praying for others)? It is a fair question. Here are the reasons why I do it:
- It awakens me to the needs of those around me.
- It stretches my heart to be a TINY bit more like God’s. God loves all y’all, and that means He hurts for what each of us hurts for. He calls us to be what Jesus was in the world, which is to say, He calls us to love everyone else like He does. Putting myself in the place of my friends as they ask God for help for themselves and others makes me take their perspective, makes me take on their loves and hurts, if only dimly and in a reflected way. But it does stretch my heart a little bit each time.
- It builds a habit I wish was natural. My wife prays for other people by reflex. My daughter, blessedly, has picked that up. It does not come naturally to me. At. All. I am low on innate compassion. But the more I practice, the stronger the habit of compassion (of suffering with) becomes.
- It is bracing to realize how much those around us are carrying. I am ALWAYS struck by the weight of what others are carrying and the courage with which they share it. If it helps them to know that one more person shares a little in that burden, then it is well worthwhile.
- We are meant to do this together. We are social beings, evolutionarily speaking. We were meant to help each other, and while some might argue the point, I’m sticking with the hypothesis that we are more at risk of isolation and loneliness than in any time in our history as a people. I hope I am the tenth, or the hundredth, person you shared your burden with. But if I’m the first, that means you aren’t still all alone, and that matters.
- You never know. Joaquin Andujar once said “You can sum up baseball in one word: You never know.” That is my mom’s all-time default phrase about every subject. And if somehow, sharing a prayer request gives you a strength and hope to encourage someone suffering in a way that helps them gain in courage and confidence to tackle what they’re facing, well. You never know.