My older son often has difficulty falling asleep. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had those nights where rumination and worry interrupt a good night’s rest. My advice to him? “Think of every person you’ve ever met and say a prayer for them.” That should take a while. It was a more intellectual version of counting sheep, and hopefully, a way to help others.
He said it helped him, and for me it sparked a new habit. Every night before I go to sleep I take a few minutes to pray for whoever is on my mind. That almost always includes my family and loved ones, but sometimes people I haven’t seen in years pop into my head too, even people I don’t even know.
For example, one time a man in his early twenties outside a movie theater approached me to ask for money. He was clearly a drug addict and looked so defeated and unhealthy. I was afraid, but I gave him a few dollars. He said thank you and walked away. I prayed for him then, knowing the money would probably go toward drugs rather than food. This was years ago, and yet I still pray for him regularly. I wonder what happened to him and I’ll never know, but I wanted so badly for him to feel loved. I could see he didn’t love himself and probably believed no one else did either.
I’ve dabbled with the idea of creating a prayer list because I’m an organized sort of person who loves to write things down (like everything I eat, every day). There are many prayer list apps our there if you’re interested. I thought about using one of them, but something about an app that reminds you to pray takes away the mystery for me. I am afraid it would become rote instead of the heartfelt spontaneous prayers I make now.
Some of the apps even have boxes you can check off when prayers are answered. My children’s Sunday school teacher reminds them that ALL prayers are answered. It’s just that sometimes the answer is “not yet” or even “no.” One of the mysteries of faith is accepting that very bad things happen to good people. We can choose to believe the universe is random or that all things have meaning, but either way, we’re not yet ready to understand fully. You don’t see the result of some prayers for a long time or ever in some cases. Did all my prayers for the drug-addicted man who approached me in a parking lot help him in any way? I’d like to think so, but I’ll never be able to check off a box definitively.
Prayer has the power to bring you out of yourself and deeper into yourself at the same time. When you’re praying for others, you’re setting your ego aside. You’re pulling yourself out of “poor me” mode. Nothing snaps me out of a bad mood faster than remembering all the people who have gone through much worse than I could ever imagine. But you are also allowed (and encouraged) to ask for yourself. Just knowing it’s not all on me to fix anyone else or myself gives me a sense of peace. I am putting forth the effort, but I’m not working alone.
Whether you believe in prayer or not, I’m sure you can acknowledge that wishing someone well, even if they don’t know you are doing so, just might change their lives for the better. I’ll be praying for you.
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