Sunday evening at the end of Evening Prayer, a young man in our midst whom I respect and treasure very much offered to say the prayers for the night. He asked if there were any prayer concerns. Our Princess spoke up and looked over at me as if seeking approval for her request. She shared about her upcoming piano recital and how nervous she was. I realized this was important to her, but what really touched my heart is that she felt comfortable in this group of adults to share her innermost feelings.
A couple of minutes later Cooter raised his hand. He shared that he had auditioned for a play and that he would be finding out about his part and beginning rehearsals the next day. He too was nervous…..and very excited.
My heart was overwhelmed.
As the young man offered a heartfelt, beautiful prayer for illnesses and diagnoses and peace and healing, he also asked for calming of nerves and the ability to do what needed to be done to do a good job and feel comfortable playing the piano, standing on a stage.
Bless him. His words were just right.
I will admit that I lifted my head just a little as our friend asked for peace for Cooter, who was sitting right in front of me. What I saw was so precious it moved me to tears. His countenance was turned to the sky and he was looking around, slowly, with a delighted look of anticipation. And then it hit me.
He was looking for God.
Oh my heart.
Prayer can do beautiful things and open up eyes and hearts looking for God.
There’s a story that is being shared rampantly across social media. The story of a daddy/daughter date at their local fast food restaurant. While there, they saw a man come in whom the dad writing this assumed, based on appearance, was homeless. The man went up to the counter and asked if they had any extra food. He waited on a manager, and the man watching him noted his kindness and the way he smiled at folks around him. When the manager came out, he offered a full meal, not just leftover scraps, to the hungry man who had asked for food, and the only thing he “required” was that the man let the manager pray with him. The “homeless” man agreed, and the manager stopped what he was doing and prayed what was described as a beautiful prayer filled with love. And at some point during this prayer, the daddy watching it all and writing about it snapped a photo of the hungry man and the manager.
At this writing, this has been shared over 109,000 times on social media. People are praising this manager and this restaurant for their Christian ideals.
A hungry man was fed. A good thing, right?
I don’t know if this man actually was homeless or not, because the person who wrote the about this didn’t share the man’s name or his story. He didn’t mention asking about it. The thing is I have friends who are homeless. They have names like Mac and Rick and Donna and Travis and Roger and Tonya. They have powerful and broken stories as to why they are without a home to find refuge in. They have stories of how they have been treated and what they have had to do in the face of hunger. They also have stories of kind people and people who have used them. And that is why this story tears me up inside.
What they have had to do to get food when they are hungry breaks my heart. That someone would require one of my friends to pray with them before getting food, not knowing how long it had been since he or she had last eaten…..that does more than break my heart; it makes me sick to my stomach.
In all fairness, I read some of the comments in the thread. I could hear how pleased folks were with what this manager had done. I wondered if maybe I was missing something, so I wrote my wise friend and advocate for those in the margins, Hugh Hollowell from Love Wins Ministries in North Carolina.* What he had to share opened my eyes even more, and he put what I was struggling with into words. Good words.
“The way to think about this is to replace ‘prayer’ with ‘whatever the helper wants to do.’ When seen that way, it is horribly offensive, and can be abusive. If Aub broke down, and asked for help, and some guy said he would give her a lift if she went out with him, that would be seen as creepy as hell. That is exactly the same scenario. Guy asks for help, the helper will only help if the recipient will do what makes the helper happy…..it is all about what the giver wants, and not at all about the recipient.”
My friends who are homeless will tell you they aren’t walking around with a lot of dignity. Folks aren’t eager to hear their thoughts on much of anything. They aren’t given the respect and consideration that other folks are given.
Think about it. This man’s picture was taken. It was shared OVER 109,000 times and, to my knowledge, no one asked his permission. I’m not sure anyone bothered to ask his name. Did anyone invite him to sit down and eat with them? The man on the daddy/daughter date watched it all and took a picture of the actual prayer to put with his story. While I don’t know what happened after the prayer was said, there is no mention of anyone reaching out to this man and taking the time to get to know him. I sure hope it happened that way, but I have my doubts.
It makes me sick to my stomach that prayer was used as a bargaining tool for food. A basic need. I can’t even begin to imagine what I would do to get food for myself (let alone my children) if I were hungry and someone said, “Sure but first I require…..” That this has been hailed as a beautiful Christian act makes me realize once again why my friend Mac once asked me, when he was trying to figure out why I was giving him a ride, “So what are you? One of them…..Christians?”
That last word was said with disdain. Since reading this story, my heart has been heavy wondering just what all has happened to my friend at the hand of well-intentioned Christians that has him saying the word in such a tone.
It’s not okay, y’all.
We are supposed to love. Without conditions. Or demands. Or requirements. Just love.
Or, in the face of hunger, feed. That’s a form of love. No tests, no hoops to jump through, no questionnaires.
Prayer can be a beautiful thing. It is relational, something that makes it very holy to me. What happened on Sunday night, when Cooter and our Princess were prayed for, that was sacred. It was beautiful and it touched my children deep in their souls. Our Princess hasn’t blinked an eye of worry over the recital and has practiced intently ever since that prayer was offered for her. Cooter took it to heart and felt only anticipation and joy as Monday afternoon rolled around.
Prayer is beautiful. Those prayers were heartfelt. Because my children asked for them, specifically sharing their needs, in a room where they felt safe with people they felt connected to. And the prayers were offered by a young man who knows their names and listens to their stories and has a relationship with them.
And that to me, makes all the difference in the world. When prayer is asked for, and it is freely given, that is a beautiful, precious, and holy thing.
Tonight I’m thankful for the people in that room Sunday night who seek and build and nurture relationships and who try to love each other just as we were commanded to do. I’m thankful for a young man with a giving heart, one that listens for the whispers of grace and talks to God with unfaltering trust and faith. I give thanks for my friend Hugh and people like him who teach the rest of us about loving folks, all folks, and giving them the respect we all deserve and the love we all yearn for. I am thankful for folks who ask others their names, hear their stories, and build community such that when one needs a friend or guidance or peace, they feel safe asking for what they need and for prayer.
Prayer can be a beautiful thing. But it should never be currency. Or required. It should connect us, not separate.
Love to all.
*It is interesting that I went to Hugh for his input on this story. It was Hugh’s writing about prayer that first stirred my heart years ago and led me to work through some hard questions I had about prayer. If you’d like to learn more about or support his mission, please click here. You can subscribe to his weekly newsletter about the pursuit of beauty here.