Another excerpt from that longer essay on prayer:
“I’ll pray for you.”
I can’t count how many times I said those words during the seven years I served as pastor of a church. Usually my offer came after a conversation where parishioners confided in me their suffering––cancer, a strained marriage, job loss, depression. I knew I didn’t have the power to fix their situations, and even if I could provide something practical––a referral to a doctor or counselor––my help was never enough for their need. I offered the one response I felt equipped for. Prayer.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone has had the privilege of travelling deep into prayer with a soul friend, as I've had for the past fifteen years. I was startled when in my pastoral role I asked, “Would you like to pray about that?” and the answer was a frightened, “Now?” or an uncomfortable, “That’s okay. It’s not urgent.” I would prefer to pray with them, right there on the spot, to invoke God’s presence and place the burden in the Holy One’s lap of love and compassion. But then I remembered the days when I felt awkward and too vulnerable to ask for prayer, let alone join my pastor in it.
My path has led me to realize that prayer is not a magical power invested in ordained and qualified parties. And there are no particular or right words to invoke. I shed my early expectations that prayer (and my own prayer specifically) should impact outcomes. God does not respond to my requests as if he works in a worldwide order fulfillment center. Instead, prayer realigns my priorities.
When I say, “I’ll pray for you,” I imagine holding the person in need––and aren’t we all in need?––up to the light of an amorphous and loving God. For me, prayer is about coming consciously into the presence of the great power for good that is everywhere and ever-present. It is a place I never want to leave. I have my prayer partner to thank for that.