I have had an interesting day where the topic of prayer has been front and central. I had a conversation with one of our companions groups, and that was the first question: “What do Presbyterians believe about prayer?”
This person had been told that a relative was not being healed through prayer because they had not been specific enough in their prayers. This person wanted to know whether that could be true.
My response was a resounding, “I’m calling foul.” (though honestly, my response was a bit more strongly worded) No. Even if you pray the incorrect medical jargon, God will still hear your prayers. In prayer, Presbyterians are not terribly concerned with accuracy and specifics, we tend to believe in a God that can probably figure out those details, even if we didn’t include them in our prayers. Prayer is about offering up to God what is on your heart, and listening for God in your midst.
And then I spent some time this afternoon at Ann Goswick’s hospital bedside.
I know many of you have been anxious for news of what is going on, but let me reassure you, that each of you know just about as much about what is going on as I do, as the family does, and as the doctors do at the moment. Unfortunately, as of this writing, it is still a mystery.
How do you pray in the face of such mysteries? Well, if it was about specifics, we would all be in trouble.
I found myself sitting in that frigid hospital room talking with Dennes, glancing over at Ann, and closing my eyes periodically with pleas. I have no problem believing that God has a better grasp on the specifics than I do.
What I did in those prayers was offer up my heartache to God over these moments. I pled for healing for Ann, I pled for comfort for Dennes and Sam and Raven, I pled for wisdom for the medical professionals treating her. I offered up my frustration at not having answers, and asked why on earth this could be happening. Then I listened. I listened to the beeps of the machines. I listened for the patterned breath. I listened to the hospital staff chatting out at the nurse’s station. But I also listened for where God’s Spirit might be in the midst of all of this.
I would love to tell you that I heard a resounding response from the heavens that reassured me, but I suppose that is about as likely as praying a specific prayer leading to her immediate recovery.
What I did hear was you. I have heard deep concern from all of Ann’s Covenant Kin over the last several days. I have heard strong desires to help and support the family. I have heard people quietly sitting with Dennes and supporting him with a listening ear. I have heard tears and gasps at the news. I have heard the reality of God’s love embodied in a church family that is at a loss for words. I may not have been given some epiphany as to what will happen or what it is that has Ann in this state. However, I was given the reassurance that the Spirit of God is fully present with her in the midst of all of this, and it has been visible through you.
I teach often about the sacraments being “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” That being the case, you have been a sacrament by the way you have embodied the love of God in this past week. Thank you!
How do you pray in a time like this? I don’t entirely know, but I do know that we must keep praying, and keep listening as the Spirit speaks. I know that specifics don’t matter all that much, but offering up your heart—whether broken or whole—is where the meaning comes from. I also know that your prayers make a difference, whether they are spoken or acted out. So please, continue your prayers for your sister in Christ.