Alice was one of the first hospital patients I visited during clinical pastoral education. We chatted about her many grandchildren. Her eyes danced with joy as she talked about Jesus. My own heart ached for such beautiful, joyful faith. I had just finished seminary and while I had been working in churches and teaching about prayer for years, my own prayer life had become an abyss of doubt and questions. The thirst-quenching flow of prayer that I had once enjoyed had dried up and now I stood by the bed of a woman dying of cancer, a wordless and prayerless desert.
When I hesitated to pray with her, she diagnosed the problem immediately. She took my hand and started to pray, effortlessly, the patient becoming the chaplain. She prayed for my ministry and that I would trust God and depend on him for all my needs. Alice modeled that God was already present and prayer simply invited God into our conversation. She taught me that prayer was not about me and my doubts but listening in on God’s love for the world. All I could do was say amen at the end, tearful and thankful. In that moment, her prayer was a flood in the desert and a seed for the future, giving me back my own ability to pray.
That was almost twenty years ago. I still remember standing by her bed like it was yesterday.
We are all mourning the sudden loss of physical connections—handshakes, hugs, fellowship, communion, in-person worship. Prayer is always a good idea, but right now, especially, praying for family, a friend, or congregation member in their hearing or reading—by phone, Zoom, email, or letter—can be a way to cross the distance and communicate God’s love. Your prayer can become for them a reminder of God’s care.
We might wonder: Does prayer work? Does it make a difference?
Jesus modeled that prayer was an integral practice of his life. In Luke 6:12, he spends the night in prayer before calling the disciples; before raising Lazarus (John 11:41–42); for his disciples and future followers (John 17:1–26); before his arrest (Matthew 26:42); and from the cross (Luke 23:34, 46), to list just a few examples. That Jesus took time to pray in the moments of his life, even as the Son of God, suggests that we as disciples are called to a similar practice.
Theologian Marjorie Suchocki’s beautiful little book, In God’s Presence, defines the work of prayer in this way: “God works with the world as it is. Quite simply, prayer changes the ‘isness’ of the world.”1 Prayer changes the world because the act of prayer changes us and those hearing our prayer. We are each part of the world, and praying opens us, if only for a brief moment, to how God is present and working in the world. That openness can lead to new choices, new ideas, and new hope for the future. It gives God a new world with which to work.
Alice could not have known that her act of praying for me would be remembered, or even now, be shared to encourage your own practice of prayer. Her act planted and watered a seed of prayer that continues to bear fruit in my life and those who hear the story.
Today, I invite you to stop, take a friend’s virtual hand, and pray.
And the world has changed!
When has prayer opened you to God’s presence and guidance in a new way?
Write a prayer for someone and send it via mail or email, or call and ask if you may pray for them over the phone.
1Marjorie Suchocki, In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer, (St Louis: Chalice Press, 1996), 49.
Susan Lynn Forshey, Ph.D., is the assistant professor of Discipleship & Christian Formation at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. A retreat leader and spiritual director, she writes and speaks about the brain and spiritual practices, prayer, Christian education, monasticism, and contemplative living. Her cat, Minerva, is patiently teaching her to put down the smartphone and pay attention.