By MARIA SERMERSHEIM
How do you pray for others?
I know how I pray for my friends and family, but I also know that I want to pray for them better. I am afraid that my prayers are inadequate compared to my love for them and my hopes for their good; and because I don’t quite understand how intercessory prayer “works,” I forget to pray for others far too frequently.
I want to remedy this. I desire greater goods for my friends than I can give. I pray that God will draw close to them and bring them clarity, peace and joy; that He will unshackle them from any chains of fear and lead them along His path of freedom. When I cannot be their closest confidant, when I cannot tend to their wounds and worries and anxieties, I want God to do it for me — and of course, even when I can, I want Him to do it better.
But it befuddles me: how does my prayer bear fruit in their lives?
Clearly, I am ignorant of the great power of God in even asking this question. Nevertheless, the question directed me to the considerations below, which give me greater confidence to pray for my loved ones more often.
I have often heard that prayer is not about changing God’s will but our own, which prompted my concern. If they’re not the ones inviting God into their lives, how is my drawing closer to the Lord benefitting them – especially if we lead separate lives? Thankfully, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – gave me a nice quick kick in the butt for when I get too wrapped up in my own head about the precise how-to of divine intervention: “... the higher form of humility consists in allowing God to do precisely what appears to us to be unfitting and to bow down to what he does, not to what we contrive about him and for him. A notion of God's remoteness from the world is behind our apparently humble realism, and therefore a loss of God's presence is also connected with it. … A god who cannot work is not God” (“Introduction to Christianity”).
God can intervene wherever He wants on account of whomever He wishes, and He does love to answer our prayers. The Bible is chock-full of evidence, and so are our lives if we open our eyes.
God desires the best for us and wants to give it to us. He sometimes denies requests of ours, for reasons we may be able to decipher and some surely not, because we can't grasp the mystery of God. As Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI says, “This is a constant temptation on the journey of faith: to avoid the divine mystery by constructing a comprehensible god who corresponds with one’s own plans, one’s own projects” (The Prayer Of Moses).
For another perspective, listen to Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers” and reflect on the fact that we do not know best. God has the long view, and He is the One who heals hearts.
Father Jacques Philippe writes, “One thing is certain: God loves our dear ones infinitely more than we do, and infinitely better. He wants us to believe in this love, and also to know how to entrust those who are dear to us into His hands. And this will often be a much more efficacious way of helping them” (“Searching for and Maintaining Peace”).
These things in mind, I am much more confident in praying for my loved ones. I know that the best thing I can do for them is to intercede for them, and I know that the specific form of those answered prayers is out of my sight. Though I may sometimes wonder about precisely how my prayers are helping, I hold to the truth that our powerful God is good and loving, and I trust that my prayers are the tightest embrace and the greatest gift I can give.