After spending a month going back and forth between home and the hospital with her sick husband, a client of mine began a session by saying this:
I have learned something this week. I will never again say to someone, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.” I will say instead, “I would like to bring you dinner on Wednesday.” Or, “I will mow your lawn this weekend.” Or, send me a list and I will grocery shop for you.” I am sick of all the superficial sentiments.
You see, when you really need some concrete help, some real world action, the words, “You are in my thoughts and prayers” are hard to hear. Could you please pray while you are making me that casserole? Could you pray while you are walking the aisles at the grocery store, buying me food so that when I come home for 30 minutes to shower, I can grab a bite before heading back to the hospital? Mowing the lawn is a great time to pray, don’t you think? Oh, and feeding and walking my dog would be an answer to prayer. Sitting with me in this godawful hospital room would be the best prayer ever, wouldn’t it?
I am not in anyway diminishing the power of prayer. But there are so many times in life when we need both prayer and action. We need them really, not just the words thrown around, a cheap and easy version of “thinking about you.”
In this age of social media, we have some hard decisions to make. We see many posts about sickness, death, accidents, and tragedies. Perhaps we feel like we ought to respond. Perhaps we are the one posting the news and we want to hear that people are paying attention and supporting us. But remember that a 3-second post may not take the place of a hand-written note, a phone call, or an act of service. Of course, we can’t tell the truth on-line. If we wrote, “Gosh, I really won’t make the time to pray or to come over and help you, but I am adding my well wishes to everyone else’s and hope that somehow that supports you” we would be laughed at. Or if we said, “I don’t really pray, but I will try and remember to think about you in this already-too-full week that I have planned,” it might not achieve the image of ourselves that we want.
There have been a few times in my life—when my daughter had major surgery, when a dear friend, my mother, and my brother-in-law died within two weeks of each other, when my marriage was falling apart, when my dad was near death for two weeks—when I actually felt carried by prayer. I literally felt like I was being held a bit above the earth, and was assisted in my movements by something other than my own will. Another feeling that accompanied being carried was the feeling that there was a hammock or a net beneath me. And I learned to lean into this support and to trust that the prayers of many were somehow coming to my aid. I am sure there is a quantum physicist out there who can explain how that happens. I just know it does happen, and so I pray for people. Really. And sometimes those prayers lead to action. Like maybe I send a card with a special poem in it. Or perhaps I make a pot of chicken soup and deliver it. Or sometimes I just pick up the phone or I stop by for a visit. The prayer leads to action and sometimes the action informs my prayer.
I know the people I call and contact if I truly need and want prayer. I call them my prayer warriors and I have a list of them in my head. I should probably put it on my phone so my husband could find it if I can’t speak but I need prayer. I trust these people to pray for me. Like really. Earnestly. Invoke the Spirit to do a good work in my life. They will stop what they are doing and set an intention and pray for me. They might add me to the paper list that is next to their devotional place and pray for me. I trust my church community to do this, too, when I really need prayer. And in this way, these people’s prayers are their action. And I yearn for that and accept that as a complete gift. I don’t need them to do anything else for me. But if you are not one of them, if you are not a prayer warrior, please let your action be your prayer for me, and make time to do something that I really need done.
However you do it, however you reach out to help another, be sensitive to their needs. Don’t be trivial.