“I’ll pray for you!” This is something I’ve said to dozens of parishioners and friends, if not more, who tell me about something going on in their life that needs some divine guidance or assistance.
Until a few years ago, I never dwelled too much on those words or that promise. I received an email from a former parishioner. Her email was to inform me that her husband, in his early 50’s, had passed away after a long and hard battle with cancer. I responded expressing my condolences, writing that I would keep him and their family in prayer. I was a bit surprised when, within a few hours, I received a second email. Her response was not what I was expecting and left me instinctively defensive. She wrote back questioning whether my prayers were genuine. Her words to me were – “your faux prayers.” She went on to challenge if “I’ll pray for you” was just something people said, or did they actually mean it and do it. I could tell from her discontentment with my email that she was very much overwhelmed by the grief of losing her spouse. She needed more compassion and outreach than my email conveyed.
Her words left me reflective and introspective. Were there times I spoke those words, “I’ll pray for you” and that was it? That my whole prayer was this four word casual remark, never intending to revisit the intention again? Sadly, yes. I am guilty of “faux prayers.” Her emailed changed forever how I would use those words and left me appreciative of God’s eye-opening use of this unsettling email.
It is true that our words are often casual remarks and lack any real depth or intention. Phrases like, “I’m so sorry to hear that”, “It was great to see you”, “I’ll be thinking of you on your (fill in whatever significant event was the topic of your conversation)”, “Just let me know if you need anything”, flow easily from our lips, but may be wanting in any depth or further thought or action. Even though our intentions are very good, saying, “I’ll pray for you”, when we do not follow through with the prayer it just doesn’t seem like the Christian thing to have done!
The words of this past Sunday’s Gospel (6th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A) ring loudly, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.'” Jesus is giving instruction about swearing an oath to God, of not taking our vows lightly. Sure, saying “I’ll pray for you” does not carry the same weight as a vow, oath or solemn promise but aren’t we basically telling someone, we will talk to God about their need or situation. God is part of the equation. Your intention + me + God = prayer!
Since that challenging email, I have been more vigilant in following through with prayer promises. The main culprit in my unfulfilled prayer is simply remembering the intention, so let me share a few ideas that helped me.
- Write it down! Nothing beats the old fashioned pen and paper to jot down the intention or use any number of apps on your phone to enter the intention.
- Speaking of apps, Echo Prayer Manager was a huge help in remembering my prayer list. In my role as deacon, many folks ask for prayers and I make a lot of promises, so this app helped to keep my ‘yes’ meaning ‘YES’! Not only does this app keep track of all of your prayer intentions, it will remind you when to pray and also gives you the option to set a timer to make sure you’ve spent sufficient time in prayer.
- Join an online prayer group. Our parish has an email prayer ministry where parishioners submit their intentions to have fellow parishioners lift them up in prayer. I coordinate this ministry for our parish and email all the members of our group each day with prayer requests (or every few days depending upon requests). As an added feature of this blog, I place all the requests on a special page so our prayer ministers can see the past several days intentions. You can find that list HERE, as well as a form, to join this group of 150+ members. I also encourage our group to send along good news, “Blessings”, so that we may all thank God for good news and answered prayers. You can find the Blessings page HERE. If your church does not have this ministry, why not consider taking the lead and starting one?! Not only do you have a built in reminder to keep your prayer promises, but you also can deepen your prayer life by praying for the needs of others, even folks you don’t know. (Praying for the living and dead is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy).
Saint John Vianney offers this insight about prayer –
My little children, your hearts, are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.
Wow! A foretaste of heaven! Who would want to miss out on that opportunity. So, “I’ll pray for you” and I mean it!! Please pray for me!