What Prayer Can Be

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.

Oh me.

A hungry man was fed.  A good thing, right?

Hamburger_sandwich

Ericd at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

 

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*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.

 

every. single. day.

all those good people

scurrying back and forth

carrying lists

lists of groceries for the food they’ll prepare

for their many,

lists of presents for the friends and family afar,

lists of gifts for the children,

lists of things to do during the hustle and bustle

of the holidays

 

and on that list

for many

“serve a meal

to those in need”

 

oh bless them

it’s a beautiful thing,

it really is,

to want to help those in need–

many come and ask,

do you know?

how?  where?  when?

 

and I do

but I don’t think they want to hear

if you only have one day, one hour a year

please just don’t

 

don’t serve a meal and never come back

don’t hand out groceries and go home

and forget

don’t stand out in the cold,

pouring hot chocolate into cups

that are sipped slowly,

for the warmth on the hands

is more needed than the drink,

don’t hand them a cup

and then go home and climb into bed and never

think of them again

 

for these folks who are just

a check mark

on a list

they live this life everyday

they sleep in the cold and the heat

they fight frostbite and mosquito bites

they can’t get a job to buy a car

because they don’t have a car,

they can’t go to job interviews

because they don’t have the clothes to wear,

a never-ending cycle of loss and need

 

folks need your help and love and offers

of kindness

not just on the fourth Thursday or the

twenty-fifth

or on the day of rest

but every. single. day.

 

and they need what they need–

food, shelter, clothes, homes–

but what they need most of all

is someone

someone

you

me

us

to sit with them

walk with them

listen to them

every. single. day

 

offer not what you think they need

one day or two

to fill you with holiday spirit…..

instead ask their story

and listen

and the pain and sadness in the brokenness

of the story

and the laughter and the joy

is not so different from yours and mine

it only lacks a caring listener

not just once

but every. single.  day.

 

go

be

that

one

for

another

 

 

 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

“I Think Jesus Loves a Good Hootenanny”

“Why I Don’t Volunteer with Homeless People” 

I Think Jesus Loves a Good Hootenanny

I don’t know exactly how to say this.  I do not intend to offend in any way, and yet I feel like it must be said.  This has been rolling around in my mind and heart for some time now, and now here we are.

‘Tis the season.

I had a call about three weeks ago from a friend of an acquaintance.  The acquaintance knew I had volunteered with the Sunday night suppers at the park and at Daybreak, and her friend was looking for a soup kitchen/food serving program to be a part of.  She called me and asked me to speak with her friend.  This woman, the friend, explained what she was looking for.  I told her we didn’t have the suppers on Sunday nights anymore.  I let her know about some of the programs that she could contact and see if they needed volunteers.  As we talked she asked me for numbers for the programs.  I sat down with my laptop and looked them up.  She was looking for something local, and we really don’t have regular daily soup kitchen programs here in town that I am aware of.  I found one with a contact number but they wouldn’t need volunteers for another couple of weeks.  When I shared this with the woman, she became very frustrated.  I got the sense that she needed to, for whatever reason, serve in a soup line sooner rather than later.  And she especially wanted to serve in that capacity–not with a food pantry or clothing closet or the like.  As she said goodbye I was sad and confused but not surprised.

This time of year folks want to serve food to folks in need.

I actually saw someone post on Facebook asking where would be a good place to help out now that it’s cold and folks are hungry.

Sigh.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, our friends without homes and those with homes who are living in extreme poverty are hungry when it’s hot in the summer, when the weather is kinder in the spring, when the leaves begin to change colors, and now–when the temperatures are dipping into the 20’s and 30’s overnight.  The hunger factor doesn’t change.  It’s just that the cold and the holidays, for whatever reason, make us think of them and remember that they are in need.  I don’t know what it is–maybe the story of this season of a young pregnant woman and her husband far from home and in need of a place to stay on a dark night?  In need of someone to say yes and offer them help?

That story is a part of ours all year long, just as are the stories of our friends in need.  None of these stories go away after the wrapping paper is in the can at the curb waiting to be hauled away.  They still remain after the “Auld Lang Syne” and toasting of the New Year.  Their stories and the one of the young mother with no place to go are with us, very real.  And we should be listening to their stories and figuring out what we are called to do in the midst of their poverty and need.  All.  Year.  Long.

When we spent our Sunday nights at the park serving the sweet tea and coffee and hot chocolate we toted up to Macon, I had several people ask me why I went, what was my reason for going.  After a lot of thought and processing what happened to me every time I was there, I finally had an answer.

I went to the park to see Jesus.

Unfortunately I was rarely asked to clarify my answer.  Folks just nodded, either figuring they knew what I meant or that I was as loony as they come, and that they didn’t need to know what I meant.  And so it was left out there.  And I’m afraid it might have been misleading.

When we gathered with our friends in the park under that grand old tree, there was laughter and conversation and quiet discussions about the hard work of living, and hugs and joyful celebrations of days and weeks of sobriety, jobs attained, applications accepted, families reunited, and commiserating over loss after loss-deaths of friends, jobs lost, succumbing to addictions, and being pushed out of a spot in a parking garage or by the river or in an old warehouse.  There were relationships happening and people joining together.  It was community and unity of people who might not have found themselves together in any other circumstance.  It was precious and unique, and it was beautiful.  And in the midst of it, I know Jesus was right there fellowshipping with us.  I didn’t see him in the eyes of my friends there, and I sure hope they didn’t try to see him in mine.  The thing is, none of us are perfect.  We’re all just living the life we have, traveling down the path in front of us.  I think if we try to “be Jesus” for our friends, the pressure is just too great.  And if we look to find Jesus in our friends we will find ourselves rudely awakened at some point. Again, the pressure is too great, and no one can live up to that.  All of us will wind up disappointed.  We are all just children looking for our way, full of imperfections and dreams and doubts and fears and hopes and hearts that want and need validation and love.  But we are not Jesus.

But I believe he is there.  When we are gathered together like that, he is among us.  The Light is there.  And it is good.

So what am I trying to say?

Not everyone is called to help by going out and meeting folks face to face–whether at a shelter, a place where meals are served, a food pantry, or a clothing closet.  Some are called to help in the background, maybe quietly maybe not, and passionately, by sharing the gifts and talents they’ve been given and supporting those programs with resources and prayer, for example.  But if you are one of the ones who feels called to meet people on the front-line, and you feel called to serve folks in need in a soup kitchen or church hall–

Don’t serve our friends a meal this year.

Not unless you have time to enjoy conversations and get to know people.  Not unless you are willing to make plans to do this again in January.  Or March.  Or July.  September.  It’s those forgotten months that are hard on the organizations and folks trying to help everyday.  It’s the forgotten months that are especially hard on our friends who are in dire need–of the spiritual food of relationships as well as food for their bodies–every single day.

And it’s the forgotten months, in my opinion, that are hard on Jesus too.  I think he loves a good hootenanny, a “happenin’,” as my Mama would call them.  A gathering where folks are full of love for each other, each one helping as he or she can…..a place where folks show respect for each other no matter their differences–I think those are some of Jesus’ very favorite places to be.

Our friends hunger for more than just food.  And more than just food is necessary for survival.  Mother Teresa put this truth into these words:

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So as this season brings the needs of others to the forefront and you feel a stirring in your heart to go and “feed the homeless,” don’t.  Unless you are willing to bring food for the soul as well.  Good conversation, getting to know each other, respect, a listening ear.  I promise you the folks who come to share the meal won’t leave hungry.  And neither will you.

May this holiday season take you out of your comfort zone.  Whatever that may look like.  Love to all.