Praying for others can deepen your faith and enhance your life.
Posted in , May 13, 2013
Praying for others is a bellwether of mental health for me. If I’m sinking into self-absorption, if I’m worried too much about what’s happening to me, I know what to do. Pray, for goodness’ sake. Pray for myself, yes, because I can’t avoid that (no use hiding my feelings). Then pray for somebody else. Pray for all those who need God so much more than me. Dad always put it in his graces, “Be with those we love and the ones they love...” and he’d name a few. He’d tell them too, “I’m holding a good thought for you.”
You should see my desk, littered with yellow Post-It notes with names of people I’m praying for: “Jerry, chemo... Emma, loss... Emily, healthy baby... Roberta’s girls... David, job interview... Monty, business... Rebecca, job... Renee, lawsuit... Pat, peace... Chuck, addiction... Mary Lou, ankl.... ”
I’m not great at it but I just keep doing it. You just do. Thank God for e-mail. I can send a quick e-mail with a follow-up question–“How are you? You’re in my prayers”–and keep track, updating the Post-It notes. I know, I know. It can be embarrassing and cringe-making to tell someone that you’re praying for them, especially people who don’t believe in prayer and think it’s utter nonsense or worse, delusional.
“You’re in my thoughts,” I’ll say, or borrowing Dad’s language, “I’m holding a good thought for you.” I’ve been known to put it in all caps–“HOW ARE YOU?”–because the prayer feels so urgent, a shout-out to God. The pain is immediate, the worry grave.
I have to trust that all the people I pray for know it’s out of love. Affection and fondness can cover a world of awkwardness. May my agnostic friends, whom I adore, forgive me if my prayers seem presumptuous or intrusive. “Be with those we love and the ones they love” is a crucial part of prayer.
I’ve even turned my prayer list into a memory exercise. Forgetfulness has been a problem of late, a sure sign of age. Coming up with people’s names is the worst. I sputter and draw a blank. If my wife Carol’s anywhere close I turn to her for help: “You know who I’m talking about, honey. That guy we went to college with who played hockey and used to go out with what’s her name and then got married to her roommate instead...”
She usually does know who I’m talking about. She’s my hard drive for names, but like a good wife she’ll wait as I go through my game of Twenty Questions. She makes me search my own hard drive just to see if it’s running. “Memorize the names on your prayer list,” I told myself. “It’ll be good for your spiritual life and good for your aging brain.” I put the names in groups of five. Easier to remember that way.
I’ll look at one of my Post-It notes, then close my eyes and go down the list in my head. The mental search is part of the prayer. Who e-mailed me the other day? Who is struggling? Who is going through a rough patch? Who asked me to pray? I can almost feel myself opening a file in my brain, one of compassion and care, one that needs plenty of use or it would disappear.
For more benefits of intercessory prayer, watch 10 Prayers You Can't Live Without: Hold a Good Thought.
Known by millions as the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, Rick Hamlin has written several books including Reading Between the Lines, his memoir Finding God on the A Train, and several novels. A contributor to Daily Guideposts since 1985 and an active blogger about prayer at guideposts.org, Rick currently lives in New York City with his wife, Carol. This article is excerpted from his new book, 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without: How to Talk to God About Anything (Guideposts Books 2013).