A heart of solid stone… that’s what it would take to survive if I did not have PRAYER in my toolbox. For all the times past, present and future when I could not, would not or did not DO anything. When I stepped over the vomit sopped drunk asleep in the alley… kept quiet when gossip sprayed across a room like a sneeze… or daily, doing my thing, ignoring what I read or heard on the news.
One seemingly standard-issue day, a woman stood across the counter at my Antiques store holding a new, cheaply made, necklace spinning a story of ancient history and real gold. I wasn’t listening much to what she was saying, I’d heard the yarn many times. Instead, I looked into her dead eyes desperately seeking a sign of life. There was a hint of youth despite her cadaverous persona.
When I explained the necklace was neither gold nor old, a new lie snaked out between decayed teeth, something about needing $10 to catch a bus because she was stranded. Again, I knew the story. I wasn’t really listening. My mind spun like a Rolodex searching for solutions. I want to help but know I do not hold that kind of power. Part of me wants her to disappear so I can return to the bliss of denying the world around me. Bad ideas exhausted, I remember where my help comes from… Please God… help me know what to do.
“I don’t want the necklace. You need help. I can see that. I’ll give you the money. You’ll run to the nearest drug dealer. We both know that. First, would you let me pray with you?”
Ordinarily I pray eyes shut intently listening, this time I kept them open, revealing a momentary glimpse of light, a peek at youth, a trace of a softening heart. The dark hollows holding the dead eyes, damp from tears. My senses heightened, I heard a tear hit the glass on the counter, one of mine. We shared a smile in another world. She looked away, but not before I saw childlike innocence. With amen, the glow on her face drained, leaving a desperate look of “where’s the cash?”
I ignored her demanding stature, going on about my church, suggesting ways she could get help until finally succumbing to her outstretched hand. With the ten dollar bill in hand, she raced for the door, stopped at the stoop, turned my way…
“I’ll be okay. Really. I’ll look for you at your church, Vineyard… right?”
That was several years ago. I think of her often, and pray. I wonder, did God answer our prayer? Is she living a full and vital life today, free from the bondage of drugs? Yet, it’s hard to picture her anything but dead. Maybe it was ME God healed that day, a progressive miracle, kneading my heart.
Helpless? Yes. Without hope? Never. One tool, prayer, keeps me sane. Without it, I’m an idiot. A busy, frantic, destructive action figure believing the delusion that I can fix things like a self-help, handyman, super hero.
I don’t know about you, but some days I am not able to ignore the dead bodies piling up just beyond the sanctity of my white picket fence. My eyes open to see the child hiding behind the gang tattoos, the loneliness around the widow in the supermarket, the daily news of tragedies, near and far, now and soon to come. I try not to dwell there and sometimes prefer a blindfold to a prayer, admittedly because when I feel helpless I forget that prayer is a verb.
Still… how do you stand by and watch a proverbial scene of man repeatedly beating himself with a stick? You ask them to quit? Yes, but they won’t stop. What then? We watched a friend toss 14 years of sobriety as simply as crumpling a sheet of paper, hurled into the waste basket. He lived in a small house directly in front of our kitchen window. A close friend to my husband, a new acquaintance of mine. We stood at our kitchen window, washing dishes, witness to the deterioration of a hearty, vital, vivacious man, morphing into a soulless human shell. All the schemes and well wishes of kings could not have brought him back. We, like many others, prayed… and prayed some more. He clearly wanted nothing more than to get life over with as fast as possible. I remember many prayers that he would experience God’s grace.
After two years of warring with himself, stopping periodically to gain enough strength to return to the battle of self-destruction, he miraculously “got it.” No earthly explanation. Today he lives, that’s a big deal in itself. Cooler yet, he’s living out the miracle as a generous, boisterous, fun-loving character searching for ways to show Grace to others; volunteering time and energy to anyone in need.
I’m grateful for the prayer tool in my otherwise empty toolbox. As an insomniac, I’ve learned to embrace this time as an opportunity to listen through the ears of my heart as God whispers the names of those I should pray for. It’s a special time cuddling with Father God. More often than not, sleep returns before I can finish the prayer list; waking with the remaining names on my heart ready for a fresh pre-dawn prayer session.
Honestly, I prefer the secret intercessory times than face to face prayers. Though that’s not completely true. Better to say I shy away from it, humbled when the Holy Spirit conducts, orchestrates and completes, leaving me aware of my lack of necessity in the scheme. I may be standing there, but the “me” of the moment, is obliterated from the equation.
I try to remember those times when I am tempted to ignore the still small voice prompting me to pray with someone. Shamefully, I remember asking a woman I respected at a retreat “how are you doing?” Expecting to hear “great” or “fine” she responds with “not so good.” I heard my heart say “May I pray with you,” but out of my mouth came, “I’ve a funny story that will cheer you up.” It didn’t. I walked away, head down.
The desire to provide a quick fix like slapping on a band-aid, giving lame advice, side swiping with a compliment (great shoes), or telling a joke must be hereditary. My dear, loving, funny, best-ever Na-na could make me madder than a wet cat (one of her terms). With perfect timing… like right after a skinned knee or whacked elbow, she’d say, “just think how much better it will feel when it quits hurting.”
AAAAAAAAAAGGGH! It still gets me to think about it.
We all have times in our life when we need more than a funny story or flippant remark. Likewise, there are times when we need to GIVE something more than a slapstick distraction. Many times, most times for me, prayer will be the only tool clanking around in the empty tool box. A funny thing I’ve learned is that when I use this tool to help another, something broken inside myself gets repaired as well.