Pray without ceasing. ~1 Thessalonians 5:17
I was recently reminded of the time, a good half dozen years ago, when I asked my seventh grade religion class, "Who has a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle who prays 'unceasingly'?" Without an exception, each of my students was able to quickly draw to mind a relative, or even a neighbor, who fit the bill. This question easily turned into a classroom discussion on the need for prayer, what prayer accomplishes, why Christ calls us to pray, and how we feel when we pray. We talked about all the different ways that people pray and how prayer changes from person to person or even from circumstance to circumstance. Prayers of gratitude, after all, were quite different than prayers of petition. Nuances between prayers were discussed. Listening for guidance was different than thanking for help but was equally called "prayer."
It was truly an anointed class discussion. As the hour wrapped up, I was moved to conclude our many insights with a question which sent a bit of a shiver down our collective spines, "What do you think would happen in our world if these people stopped praying?" No one wanted to "go there." It was apparent that every single student, even if he or she didn't spend much personal time in prayer, didn't want to imagine a world where prayer had stopped. It would be, we all confirmed, catastrophic. If our world currently reflected what it was like to have so many people in prayer, we could only imagine the horror if those prayers stopped.
What recently brought this classroom discussion to my mind was, of all things, a family wedding invitation. My mother-in-law, now in her late 80's, is no longer able to accompany my husband and myself to family events. It is becoming too difficult for her to spend time away from home; getting in and out the car, sitting in a chair at a wedding reception for even an hour, all these things are now beyond her physical capabilities. Instead, she stays home and prays. She prays for her children, she prays for her grandchildren, she says the rosary for the homeless and the forgotten, she asks Christ to pour His blood on the Holy Souls of Purgatory. Last weekend, she even prayed for good weather so that people could have a relaxing weekend, rejuvenated for the work week ahead.
At first I was quite saddened by the prospect that my mother-in-law would not be able to attend the wedding of her niece. Weddings are such joyous occasions for celebration and I very much wanted to talk my mother-in-law into accompanying us to the reception. I promised her we would leave as soon as she wanted. I assured her that neither the picking up nor delivering of her was anything other than our pleasure. My heart felt heavy as I contemplated the wedding without her attendance.
Slowly my suggestions waned. Then, quietly, I looked at my mother-in-law and remembered that particular classroom discussion. I felt the Lord's Spirit moving my heart from sadness to gratitude as I realized that my mother-in-law would cover the bride and groom in prayers. I knew she would pray for a fun reception and a marriage filled with love and hope. My mother-in-law, herself the mother of seven, would most assuredly pray for many children for the couple and for Christ to be the center of their lives. I smiled as I thought of this young couple, not even knowing how they would be cared for in my mother-in-law's prayers, and how those prayers would have untold ripple effects to carry them through their life together. Yes, it became crystal clear to me that my mother-in-law's gift was going to be far greater than anything I was to put in an envelope. And I shuddered to think of the world without her prayers in it.