I’m always looking for things to write about and am so grateful to those of you who have sent suggestions. I’m working my way through the list as the Spirit moves me. The idea for this week’s post came from my friend Carol. “In a pastor friend’s weekly note to his congregation,” she wrote, “I read the sentence ‘thank you for your ministry of intercessory prayer’ as ‘thank you for your ministry of necessary prayer’…” Taken by that phrase “necessary prayer”, she passed it along to me to write about.
“Necessary Prayer.” The first thing I thought was, “Is there any other kind?”
It’s a Freudian slip of the finest sort, for two reasons.
One, I don’t believe there is such a thing as unnecessary prayer. Two, if there is a hierarchy in prayer, in light of my experience, I’m convinced intercessory prayer is the most essential – most necessary – of all the many and varied forms of prayer.
Bill’s terminal diagnosis came out of nowhere. Knowing he had only a few short months to live, I took a leave of absence from my congregation to care for him. Moving from pastor to 24/7 caregiver was culture shock. Instead of days spent studying the Word, crafting worship services, choosing hymns, writing and compiling prayers and sermons, my life revolved around the rhythm of his needs, tasks increasing steadily as function declined hour by hour, day by day.
Everything was difficult, but there was fallout in areas I didn’t expect. Rather than the intimate companionship I so needed and wanted with God, I felt bereft of the Holy, unable to pray in any traditional fashion as I previously had.
My stress-induced spiritual aphasia mimicked Bill’s loss of cognitive function in the eeriest of ways. Just as he could no longer verbalize understandably or reliably, when I tried to pray, I couldn’t put three words together in a way that made sense. “Help, please!” was, literally, all I could manage.
Those circumstances caused me to feel isolated, but that wasn’t the case. There were a host of ministering angels who did anything and everything they could to help us. One of the many gifts of grace Bill received was the blanket in the photo at the top of the blog, sent to him by the Dahinda, IL United Methodist Church. Handcrafted by members of the church’s prayer ministry, it was a tangible symbol of the many and unceasing intercessions offered by them and countless others on our behalf, a constant reminder that we were not walking that road alone.
Those prayers saved me.
I understand now that just because it felt like God was a million miles away did not mean that was the case. Even when I could not sense Divine presence, God was with me through every minute of those dark days and has continued to companion me. And my inability to form words into prayers in the manner I’d been accustomed to in no way kept the Holy One from hearing the cries of my heart.
But at the time, I was in real danger of losing my mind and my way, overwhelmed by the horror of watching the love of my life disappear before my eyes. Without the intercessions of others, I would not have survived. Knowing prayers were being offered for us when I could not pray myself gave me enough strength to keep getting out of bed every morning, putting one foot in front of other, and doing what needed to be done.
We’re not always aware of the struggles our fellow human beings are facing – or their depth. Even when we know the need, there are not always concrete things we can do to change circumstances, alleviate suffering, bring healing. But we can always pray, and I can tell you from personal experience those prayers mean everything.
“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Pray hard and long. Be alert; keep your eyes open and always
keep on praying for your brothers and sisters,
and all the Lord’s people. Keep each other’s spirits up
so that no one falls behind or drops out.”
Ephesians 6:18, NIV, The Message
Know, friends, that I’m holding you in my heart, and keeping you in my prayers.