It is very true that the phrase, “I’m praying for you.” might at times seem to be little more than a cliche. It is true that it sometimes appears as though prayers are falling on deaf ears. It is true that there are many among us who do not believe in God or a higher power who therefore see prayers as futile efforts. It is true that there is not always a visible link between prayers and actions that create positive change. It is true that good people who pray often suffer. The mystery of prayers is tied to our most human frailties and the extent to which we rely on them is often determined by what we think their purpose and powers to be.
I continue to marvel at those who have developed a childlike and unbending trust in prayer. They are not free from tragedy or suffering and yet they seem to experience a faith that brings them calm and happiness even in the midst of their pain. They are people who have ordered their lives by putting their God first. They are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, people who have a living breathing relationship with a power higher than themselves. They fairly glow with the serenity that comes from such unswerving faith, and they all seem to share the quality of making prayer an integral part of their daily routines.
I think of extraordinary humans like Danny, Paula, Martin, Susan, Eileen, Jezael, Zerin, Mohammad, Jack, and Delores who literally glow with the spirit of understanding what prayer is and what it is not. For them prayer is a way of praising God or Allah or Yahweh or Brahma with an understanding that the deity is ever at their side, willing to comfort and guide them. They rejoice in the relationship with a power higher than themselves. Their prayers strengthen them and allow them to face challenges with the knowledge that they are never alone regardless of how difficult the trials that they face may be.
Prayer for the true believer is not a matter of asking for favors but rather a means of growing closer to God. It is an intimate relationship that provides them with the ability to endure the quirkiness of life. They also feel comfortable asking that others may know the serenity that their own prayerfulness brings to them. They trust in God to enter their minds and guide them to pathways that will enrich their own lives and those of the people around them.
We often cringe at the shallow sounding expression of prayer intentions and yet there is no greater gift than knowing that someone somewhere is thinking of us in our hours of need. Those prayers are proof that not only has God not abandoned us but also that other souls understand our fears and our wants. We may not have our wishes answered in the ways that we hope, but if we meditate and listen we will surely find what we require to survive the blows of daily existence.
We humans are social. We must believe that someone cares about us. Loneliness and depression are at record levels these days. When another person prays for us it is an indication that we are important and that we matter. Why would we refuse such a beautifully unselfish offer of love?
Prayer provides no guarantees that we will get what we want. My cousin Jack was a prayer warrior who began and ended every single day with praises to God. He suffered from congestive heart failure and died rather young but he understood that God’s answer to him was not that his disease would be eradicated but rather that he would experience a profound miracle of peacefulness in each and every day. Life was a beautiful adventure for him and prayer was at its center. He inspired those of us who loved him to be better and more faith filled. Being around him was always a happy experience. It was prayer that made him strong and courageous.
I can’t imagine attempting to navigate my way through tough times without prayer. I suspect that my darkest hours might have led to my demise had I not felt a powerful presence helping me to make it from one moment to the next. I was lucky enough to have learned the power of prayer from a mother who accomplished great things in spite of a life filled poverty, loss, illness. She was almost beatific whenever she spoke of the goodness of God. She saw herself as someone who was rich in the ways that matter most.
Our world is filled with so many dreadful and horrific problems. It sometimes seems as though prayers are falling on deaf ears and accomplishing nothing, but the wheels of history and progress have always moved slowly and cautiously. Our human institutions are flawed by our own frailties but over the course of history we have steadily improved even as we create new problems for ourselves. Prayers are often a first step in discerning what is most right and just. Prayers have the power to open hearts and inspire minds. When done with sincerity they bring out our goodness and help us to progress in our evolutionary journey toward becoming better.
I don’t think we should ever consider prayer to be a worthless effort even if we are loathe to believe that they are going nowhere but inside somebody’s deluded head. We do not completely know the mystery of how prayer works or even if we humans are doing it right, but time and again we have witnessed its power to bring us together. That alone makes it a venture that is more than worthwhile. It makes prayer an effort worth doing and accepting as the gift that it is. It is so much more than just a cliche.