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When we gather as a community to pray together, we really gather to do a lot of things. We sing and keep silence. We give thanks for the day fast passing into night, even as we also confess when we have taken it all for granted and when we have sinned. We listen as contemplatively as we can manage as one of us reads scripture. We listen for the Spirit hidden in the nooks and crannies of the words of our sister and brother. We talk about nothing as a way of talking about everything. But, we also come to a time to name some of the particular things for which we are praying.
Over the years, this time of naming particular prayer requests has developed its own unspoken and natural form. First, we hear the most pressing requests on people’s hearts—those requests that will not sit still for another second and leap from the mouths of dear friends as soon as they can. Second, we usually have a chorus of updates on sick family members, friends in recovery or trying to escape addiction, loved ones making big transitions, and people we know (or don’t know) who are either newly homeless or dangerously close to it. Third, we hear the regular requests that are ticked off like prayer beads every week, once again reminding us of our commitment not only to pray for others, but to carry each other in our prayers and thoughts.
Finally, we wait quietly for a few remaining prayers to be offered up hesitantly and with uncertain conviction. These last requests are the raw ones, the ones that don’t come easily or quickly, and can be hard to talk about. Offering these last prayers up to the room is a step in faith, trusting that those gathered will take up our messy, half-articulated worries and hurts with tender hands. This last kind of prayer request was what Fletcher offered one night.
Fletcher had lost a lot of hours at his job and now found it difficult to make ends meet. He was trying to get back on his feet, but was struggling—that’s one of the reasons he was staying in one of our hospitality rooms. So, as our prayers rounded out to silence, Fletcher first asked for us to pray for people who were having trouble in their jobs. Instead of asking us to pray for him, he asked for prayer for people who matched a description that was conspicuously like him. He had the voice to ask for prayer, just not for himself yet. We nodded our willingness to do so—this is, in fact, one of our regular prayers. After all, so many of the people who call our community home know this struggle intimately.
But, then Fletcher named another person around the circle, Ed, and asked us to pray specifically that Ed might get the hours he needed at his job. He had the voice to name a person, just not himself yet. We nodded our willingness to do so, and Fletcher looked Ed in the eye and asked, “Because it’s hard, isn’t it?”
“Can I do something right now?” asked Gage, our brother who had recently been released from jail and reunited with his fiancé. Gage hadn’t been with us too long, but was eager to leave his past behind and be a part of something like our little community. Helpful to a fault, but occasionally reserved in groups, his request was something of a surprise as I was distracted, trying to figure out how to let Fletcher know we’d be praying for his job situation even if he couldn’t ask for himself, yet.
By the time I had begun to nod to Gage, he had already bowed his head and began praying spontaneously for Fletcher. “Lord God, we know you care about Fletcher, Ed, and everybody, so we want to care, too. Help Fletcher get the hours he needs and to know that you love him and we do, too. Amen.” It wasn’t a fancy prayer, but it communicated something vitally important: we knew, we cared, and we were listening—even if he couldn’t ask for himself, yet.
“Thanks,” Fletcher whispered. Gage nodded silently and looked away, ready for the attention to shift somewhere else in the circle.
“Let’s not forget to pray for Gage, too,” I added, “he’s still looking for a job, right?”
We prayed for Gage, Ed, and Fletcher, and we prayed for the 45% of homeless people in our country who have a job, but can’t get enough hours to make ends meet. We prayed for the words to say when we gathered together, but also to know when silence is the best prayer we can offer. We prayed for sisters and brothers who find it hard to pray for themselves, but easy to pray for others. We did all this, because we want to be people who gather up prayers and honor them all with tender hands. Wrapped in the prayers of the community, we’re all learning how to pray for ourselves by praying for each other.
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