One of the commitments I’ve made in the last year or so is that if someone asks for prayer, I write it down on a sheet of paper. I pray through that list every night during Evening Prayer. Most people, I’ll admit, don’t get a lot of individual attention unless I know that something in particular is wrong– they’re hurting or unemployed or whatever. If I think things are basically going OK with you, you get mentioned to God with a “whatever he/she needs” attitude.
I came to this idea of a prayer list when I was preparing for hiking the Camino Santiago de Compostela. I posted this on Facebook:
To my astonishment, I had over 100 specific replies to this post, so I decided to enter all those requests into an Evernote document and to print it out and carry it with my passport and credenciál as I hiked the Camino. I prayed for these people every day, morning and evening. I added people along the way, too. I was surprised and deeply moved by people’s responses to my offer to pray. Several were in tears as I wrote down their names, like the owner of the hostel in France who told me that his wife had left him 25 years earlier. “But we are still married in God’s eyes,” he said, showing me his wedding band. I promised I would deliver his petition to Jesus at the tomb of St. James.
Another surprise: Many people I’d prayed for wrote to me after the trip to tell me that their prayers had been answered– some in extremely surprising ways.
There’s a guy I went to high school with who once complained on Facebook that no one who said they prayed for people actually did. So, I added him to my prayer list and now I pray for him every day. I let God sort out what the guy needs. That’s my basic attitude– let God sort it out. I pray for non-Christians, but not for their conversion. I pray for sinners, but not that they’ll stop sinning. I just pray for them, and whatever God does with that prayer is better than anything I could come up with. God’s got some mysterious stuff going on, and I don’t want to mess with it– I want to cooperate with it.
For a while I used an iPad for my breviary I opened a page in “Notes” and typed in a copy of my paper list. Nowadays, I am back to paper. I’ve got about 100 people on there. Some of them, I have no idea how they got on my list. But that’s part of the beauty of it, right?
Whatever else prayer does, it makes you pay attention to God’s ongoing work in the world and among his people. And daily prayer provides a small but concrete way to love others, to take yourself out of the center of your own narrative and let God occupy the center. I don’t think that’s all that prayer does, but I welcome it.