Not on the prayer list


EVERY WEEK THE PRAYER LIST goes out. It goes out and I, and many others, pray. We pray for those who are in the hospital, for those who have just buried a loved one, for those who are home recovering from surgery or learning how to care for a newborn.

It is good to pray for those on the list. I am thankful to be able to see someone the next Sunday and ask, “How’s your mom doing?” or “I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your grandfather.” But I’ve been in ministry long enough, and it doesn’t take long, to know that there are lots of people desperately in need of prayer and care who aren’t on the list.

The prayer list is rated PG, PG-13 at worst, and many prayer requests aren’t. It is all right to share about illness, but only certain kinds. It is acceptable to grieve publicly a death, but not the utter loss of trust or shattered dreams.

Sometimes I wish we could put on the list all the situations that keep us up at night, the incessant worries that we don’t share, the secrets we’ve worked so hard to hide. It would be a test of our communities of faith, no doubt. Could we really forgive the elders who’ve cheated on their taxes or their spouses? Would we be willing to share enough to support the family who slept in their car last night? Would the kid caught with a bag of weed still be welcome to go on the youth mission trip?

I don’t know how our communities of faith would handle a list that included all the prayer concerns that concern us most … my parents’ fighting scares me, I just got fired, I gambled and lost the mortgage payment, my grandson is flunking out of school, my daughter came out to me last weekend, I’m estranged from my family, no one knows I have a criminal record. There are so many things that just don’t make that list but for which we need prayer, we need care, we need community.

Sometimes I wish we could put it all on the list and e-mail it out to the whole congregation so the Body of Christ was completely exposed, wounds, scars, blemishes in full view.

I’d like to think that all of its parts would find comfort in such honesty. We’re all uniquely imperfect, and all this time I thought it was just me. I’d like to think that that knowledge would bring an outpouring of compassion and grace. I’ll pray for your son, you pray for my addiction. I’ll go with you to visit your husband in prison, you go with me to that unit in the hospital that requires a code.

I’ve been in ministry long enough, and it doesn’t take long, to know that it wouldn’t always happen like that. But I’ve been in ministry long enough, and it doesn’t take long, to know that a lot of times it would. In the meantime, I want to offer a prayer for all of those not on the list:

Tender-hearted God, remember us, the ashamed and the hurting. Remember us, the worried and beaten. Remember us, the whole Body of Christ, marred, scarred, ugly and lovely. Hold us in the palm of your hand and keep us close. Assure us we are on your list, our names written in the book of life. In the darkest part of the night enter our dreams and show us that Christ prays for us. In each breath we take, whether shallow, shocked or heaving, remind us that the Spirit intercedes for us. Amen.

JILL DUFFIELD is associate pastor for discipleship at Shandon Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C.