Saint Paul urges us to “pray without ceasing,” though the translation from Greek means, not that we pray without stopping, but that we keep returning to prayer. We constantly rededicate ourselves to talking with and listening to God.
Most of us start with the route prayers: Grace before meals, Hail Mary’s, Our Fathers, or the occasional rosary. Some of us also pray like chain smokers when there’s a crisis, one rosary after another. However, dedicating your prayer life to others requires something other than an organic response to others’ needs. It must be willed.
Last year, as a method of deepening my own prayer, of forcing me to go beyond the ordinary and the organically inspired, I offered to pray for whosoever asked, every day on my Facebook feed. Admittedly, I felt more than a little awkward, posting the question, “May I pray with you?” I knew I had friends who were atheists, friends who didn’t pray, and folks who were friends of friends, who didn’t think much of religion, much less prayer.
As with all things with God, what we receive is always more than we asked, and in excess of what we expect. I had planned to just post the link each day during Lent, but the needs kept coming, such that the practice became almost expected. Over the course of the first forty days, the asking grew easier every time I asked, and harder those times I forgot. Acquaintances became friends, friends grew closer, and people I’d not known well became people I wished I’d known better sooner. People who didn’t pray, asked for prayers.
People who met only because of the petitioning, began praying for each other. When a crisis occurred (and several did), people rallied, both in tangible and spiritual acts of prayer for those they never met in real life, except through the daily dialogue of Facebook. It became a virtual community.
Some days, the stories hurt; a son struggling with mental illness, a suicide, a car accident, a flood, a divorce, an incurable disease, a death. Other times, the petitions rang like songs; for graduates, weddings, babies and birthdays.
A year later, I stopped posting daily but it felt like I’d left a critical part of my day off the to-do list. Something in me refused, despite discovering friends, watching the fruit of answered prayers and knowing we should be praying with and for each other constantly, to continue the practice except when inspired. Like a runner who stops running, and finds the need to lessen after a time, I found myself slack.
My own will remained insufficient to the task to restart the habit. Finally, it came to my dimmed soul, to ask for help praying. To ask my guardian angel to pray, ask my confirmation saint, ask favorite saints, ask those I love who died before me. Ask those who prayed with me during the year. Even the Gospel that week reminded me, “Hey, doofus, ask!” It grew easier, but it wasn’t until I received the gift of someone else’s prayers that I understood something of what that year meant to those who asked for petitions for themselves.
That particular week included a car accident, a trip to the ER for one child, and the normal turmoil parents endure from adolescents (three different ones) on three different nights. We faced worry, frustration, and no small amount of exhaustion. I felt beyond spent. My heart wailed.
The words, “They are out of wine,” floated up into my head, and I knew it in my bones. I typed “May I pray for you today?” into a post, wondering if I could manage a few Hail Mary’s for whoever posted. Several people typed “Yes,” and added that they would pray for me. I had said nothing about needing prayer. Here was the Holy Spirit offering consolation, telling their hearts to minister to mine.
The next day, in the mail, came a card from a friend I’ve only known online. She’d spent an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for my family. She didn’t know all the scrapes and emotional bruises of my week, but the Holy Spirit tapped her on the heart to pray for me, and she’d prayed. I felt so grateful, that little card buoyed me all day and into the next three. I looked at it and reread it, and considered the reality, what a gift she’d given.
We cannot know all the crosses each person carries, but we can like Simon, help carry them by our prayers. We cannot heal every ill, or solve every problem, but we can minister to those suffering like Veronica, with our petitions. We can weep with the women who wept. We can stay awake in the garden with the one who feels alone, even if it’s only online. One almost feels giddy at the idea of countless people, offering their prayers for people’s sufferings, for their cares. Imagine, if we all knew, other people were praying for us, for our lives to be blessed. Prayer for others is the gift of time, it is the gift of love. It is always an offering of self, willing the good, willing God’s will for someone else.
The prayer card from my friend remains in my purse. Her gift brought me back to my own weakness. I needed to cease needing to feel it, in order to do it daily.
The understanding came while encouraging my twelve-year old daughter to study for exams. I told her “None of us want to take tests, all of us endure them.” Most preparation for any test involved being willing to put in the time. Leaving her to her studies, I thought about other disciplines: exercise, cleaning up, reading, writing, parenting, relationships. Everything in life of deeper value, required a form of daily discipline, irrespective of feeling.
I could almost see Saint Peter rolling his eyes at me and giving a not so subtle clearing of the throat to point out where the defect in my own prayer life lay. Most of what is required of any of us in cooperating with God’s will is willing our will to be His.
“Be serious and sober minded so that you will be able to pray.” “Be serious.” I thought about the discipline of exercise, study, and writing. People who are serious about fitness worked out daily, no matter what. People serious about scholarship, researched beyond the minimum. Writers wrote daily, inspired or not. No excuses. People serious about a friendship with God, they need to talk and listen daily. “Be sober,” was a not so subtle hit over the head, not to dwell in the land of feeling with respect to my relationship with God and willingness to pray. I needed to “just do it.”
Praying with others and for others, changes how one prays and why one prays. We begin by praying for the person’s intentions, we grow in prayer to the point of praying for the person his or herself. Pray even when you don’t feel it because this world aches and bleeds and mourns. This world needs more prayer, not less, more people praying the good of others, not fewer.
Trust the Holy Spirit to bring great good out of all that we offer and know that offering and actually engaging in prayer for others fulfills both the mission and creates the missionary community. God uses prayer as a means to bring us always into deeper relationship with Him, and each other.