One of the hardest ways of prayer is not imaginative prayer. It’s not lectio divina. It’s not even trying to listen to God’s voice. One of the hardest ways of prayer is praying for other people—actually, remembering to pray for those people who you said you’d pray for. It’s easy to tell someone that you’re praying for them. I do it all the time. In both the Sh*tuff Christian Girls Say and the Stuff Catholic Girls Say videos on YouTube, they make fun of this.
But remembering to pray for others and to keep consistent can be difficult. At one point I started keeping a little black book of people who asked for my prayers. The problem was, the list got longer and longer. I even occasionally forgot to look at it. At one point I had about fifty names or intentions on it and I had to start crossing some out. It just didn’t seem possible to authentically pray for each one with the time I had. I wanted to take seriously someone’s prayer request and really pray for them.
Well, the other day my mother asked me if I had prayed for her and my father at Mass on Sunday. The honest answer was no. I had been actively praying for other things that had been on my mind. But I had no excuse that I didn’t pray for my own family. It kind of bummed me out because as it happens, I every so often remember that I’ve been forgetting to pray for someone who I specifically told I’d pray for them. Oh, and I had dropped the list thing a while ago. It wasn’t working. So what about my mother? “I’ve been thinking of you and dad,” I told her. Which was the truth. I had been thinking of them while they were at their summer cottage in Maine with my dog and grandmother, hoping they were having a good time, wishing I could be with them.
The fact of the matter was that I had indeed been praying for them. Just my thinking of them intentionally was a prayer. We tend to think of praying for someone as using words and sentences, speaking to God and asking for something specific. Thing is, God knows exactly what I want to pray before I pray for it. When I think of someone and at the same time turn my thoughts to God I am praying for them—without words. See, the most important part of prayer is the intention. Sometimes speaking to God is great, but turning our thoughts to God is just as good. Suddenly, long lists of names and intentions don’t seem so bad. If I don’t have time to sit down and pray long and hard for someone I can think of them during a pause at work, direct that thought toward God, and trust that God is taking care of that person’s needs. God works through our hearts’ intentions.
Prayer is ultimately about relationship with God. In human relationships words are not always required and neither are they always required with God. And as humans we like to know when we’re being thought of. Thinking about others and how God cares for them is an important form of prayer. How often do you hear people say, “You’re in my thoughts”? Unfortunately, that’s sometimes a secular alternative of telling someone you’re praying for them. Thing is, that is prayer when our thoughts are care-filled and hopeful and life-giving.
Who are you thinking about and how might it be a prayer without words?
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Music: Kevin MacLeod