What Would You Like Me to Pray For?

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If I know you, chances are you've heard me ask, "What would you like me to pray for?" It often unlocks what is pressing on the minds and hearts of the people I care about. Over the years, the necessity and practice of intercessory prayer has grown on me. I now inquire after colleagues, neighbors, my children's friends, a Facebook group, and the occasional random acquaintance or stranger.

The true power of intercessory prayer is modeled in the Mass. Through it Jesus prays for us to the Father, as we pray collectively for the Church and the world. Indeed, the Prayers of the Faithful are just that: Prayers made in faith by faithful members of the Body of Christ.

To pray for the living and the dead is a spiritual work of mercy. Therefore, it is a practice worth cultivating in daily life.

I started doing this intentionally—pardon the pun—about twenty years ago. I prayed the rosary every week with a few neighborhood moms. We'd take turns leading the various decades and meditations. One by one we'd name our needs or personal petitions aloud, sometimes providing a detail or two, and often asking others to remember a "special intention"—the Catholic code phrase for I cannot publicly disclose the details, but God knows what it is.

Intercessory prayer became a way to keep my loved ones close even we were apart. Instead of just wistfully "sending good thoughts their way" or "thinking of them," prayer became a tangible action that I could do for them in their absence, besides keeping them close at heart.

In later years, I dealt with difficult health issues, with thousands of prayers lifted on my behalf. It is hard to describe the experience of feeling carried beyond my own strength to have endured some of those days. But thanks to the prayers of others, and witnessing my own renewal through them, I don't hesitate to ask when I need prayer, or to offer it for others.

I think we all long to reveal what's really going on with us to a compassionate friend. But we are too often afraid, or just cannot find the words. So in those moments intercession becomes a kindly form of attentive and gentle listening.

Intercessory prayer became essential in my family life, especially around toddlers and teenagers. Both age groups often resort to forms of withdrawal and harrumphing when something is amiss. So patiently seeking a connection becomes an act of love. In the toddler's case, offering your lap, a story, and whispering a little prayer as you sweep back their hair is often enough to carry the moment. For the teen, you might have to employ the nondescript version of the same thing—here, look, I just made this snack! Let's say a little prayer of thanks before we eat. Oh, and is there anything else we should pray for while we're at it?

Even grown-ups have a hard time disclosing what they need in prayer. Many simply do not believe in its power; still others are longing to believe in prayer's efficacy. And many shy folks would never dare bother you with the so-called small details of their own lives given the cataclysmic needs for world peace, disaster relief, and the tragic immensities of human suffering around the globe. It is as if God's to-do list was too big to include all of us.

How often we need the reminder that our Big God loves us individually, with an intimacy that knows even the hairs of our heads are numbered. (See Mt. 10:30; Lk. 12: 17.) As I learned from my years of experiencing holy, prayerful friendships, sometimes we all just need a God with skin on.

An intercessor need not be nosy or a busybody. Offering such a question can fit into the friendly context of daily banter: I'm going to church later, (or Bible study, or adoration,) and I'd be happy to offer up a prayer for you . . .

Of course we can always offer prayers on another's behalf anonymously. I do that every time I pass a car accident or hear tragic news in the media. Still, I try to lovingly ask directly for petitions when I can. I've yet to hear anyone decline, or become insulted by the question.

It's like when the doctor asks, "Tell me where it hurts?" All the patient has to do is point to the boo-boo. Intercession is like that; people don't have to give a lot of elaboration, they just need to point and say, "this . . ."

"He's sick and waiting on the lab reports . . ."

"I need a job . . ."

"She's cutting . . ."

"He got arrested . . ."

"I'm getting a divorce . . ."

"We lost the baby . . ."

"I might have failed my class . . ."

"My father is dying . . ."