Our Thoughts and Prayers

What do we say when we see someone suffering?  What is there to say?  Certainly not, "I know just how you feel," or, "don't worry, time will heal," or, "It was God's will."  

Often we say, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you."  And what does that mean, and what good does it


 I've been thinking about prayer since I saw and wrote about Barbara Lubliner's beautiful prayer flags last week.

I think a lot about prayer, especially at the times when I’m supposed to be praying and can’t figure out how to do it.

I was talking with my brother, Alan, about a person we both knew.  

“He’s so pretentious,” I said, “He prays with his head thrown back and his arms up in the air, just like a televangelist.”

“How did you know what he's doing if you're praying?” Alan asked me.

Theologian Frederick Beuchner  has said that if all we ever did was give thanks that would be enough for a lifetime of prayer. That may be true, and I've found that listing what I have to be grateful for is a pretty good way to lift my spirits. 

   I don’t usually ask for much in prayer beside strength and patience and help in figuring things out, but I’ve driven behind an ambulance praying like crazy--"I’ll do anything ---just let him be ok-- Please, Please, Please.” 

The only other time I can remember asking for something specific in prayer was in 2003, when a group of American soldiers were ambushed in Iraq. I kept thinking of the fear on the face of Specialist Shoshanna Johnson, as she was herded into the back of a truck, shot in both ankles, taken for a hostage. I started praying for her by repeating her name over and over to myself; Shoshonna Johnson, Shoshonna Johnson, Shoshonna Johnson. whenever I thought of her I'd repeat her name. After  twenty-two days she and her comrades were rescued by the United States Marines.  Did I save her with my prayers?   Did God save her because I asked?  The Marines saved her but some could argue that God sent the Marines.  Did I send her strength and courage with my prayers?  I don’t know.  I do know that praying for her made me feel good about myself.

When I first moved to New York City, and in my early years with Arthur I didn't go to church but when my grandmother died I felt a pull back to the fold and I wanted to take Jessie and Sam to church with me. I talked it over with Arthur.  He didn’t object, in fact he said, “I don’t believe, but sometimes I envy you your belief.   So take the kids, but pay attention to what they are told there.”

 So I paid attention and saw this Sunday School lesson about prayer. It showed a picture of a little boy about to be attacked by a vicious dog.   He says, “Help me Jesus!”  Around that time I was walking on a city street with Sam, then about four. As he skipped ahead of me a large dog broke free from the leash and rushed at him, barking.  Sam flattened himself face front against a wall, protecting the most vulnerable parts of his body.   Sam’s was the more effective response. I knew that Jesus, as much as I revere Him, wasn’t about to magically appear and stand between Sam and the barking dog. Sam knew it, too. 

I’m not saying I don’t turn to Jesus in times of trouble but in a different kind of trouble.  When I’m lost in despair, when I’m so angry I can’t see straight, when I was so exhausted that I asked why I ever wanted  children, when I swore I would never speak to my mother again as long as I lived, when I thought divorce was the only answer, sometimes my prayer was, “Lord, just get me through the next ten minutes,” and that was often enough.   

As I made the flags, I imbued them with positive feelings, meditating on loving kindness and wishing good will out into the world. They are meant to spread peace, happiness, and good fortune to all. 

That's a prayer.


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