We made a quick run to the grocery store on Saturday morning, just my younger girls and me. It was as I was loading the groceries into my car that I heard a quavering voice behind me say, “Excuse me. Can I pray with your daughter?”
I turned around to see the most completely ordinary looking woman biting her lip and fighting down nervousness. She took a deep breath and continued, “I’m on the prayer ministry for the sick at my church, and I saw your daughter in the wheelchair, and I just felt compelled to pray for her healing. Is that okay?”
I turned towards Ella and raised an eyebrow in query. She shrugged in reply, so I said, “I guess so, if it’s okay with her.”
The stranger walked over to Ella and repeated her question, “Is it okay if I pray for you?” When Ella nodded warily she asked, “Is it okay of I hold your hands while I pray?” She held out her shaking hands, and, to my surprise, I watched my shy girl reach out in return.
There they were at the side of my car, Ella seated and already wearing a seat belt, and this unknown woman standing beside her with her head bowed in prayer. They communed in silence for about a minute before this woman commanded her legs to be healed in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When she was done, she fondly touched my daughter’s cheek and went into the store. I climbed up in the driver’s seat and turned us towards home.
We’d gone a few blocks before I asked, “What did you think about that lady who prayed with you?”
She thought for a moment before saying, “At first I thought it was weird, but then I thought ‘This is what we’re supposed to be doing, praying for people who need it.’ You know, Mom?”
It’s got me wondering about how I am truly living my faith if the idea of approaching a stranger in obvious need of prayer seems odd to me. Sure, I can quote from the Catechism and Encyclicals. I can debate the finer points of theology with just about anyone, and love the thrill of going head-to-head in theological discourse with a well-matched opponent…but I’ve never lived my faith as simply and honestly as the woman in the parking lot.
If I am the only face of the Church that anyone ever meets, what does that face look like? Is the image I present unbending and firm? (Which begs the question of whether or not anyone is ever argued into the Church.) Or am I Christ-like, gently inviting people to faith and prayer? (Because many people are loved into the Church, this we know.) If I truly believe Jesus Christ to be goodness and mercy, is that the image of Him that others see in me?
I don’t think so. I think they see the strong defender long before they even get a chance to see the love.
Mother Teresa once remarked that no one hears the Voice of God over the sound of an empty stomach. How much less can they hear over the sound of a broken heart? If I wound others in my lack of charity and desire to prove myself right, we both are lost.
If I can quote encyclicals and verbally best anyone who comes against me, and yet have not the love to pray with a sick stranger in obvious need…what good am I? I’m not building up the Kingdom of God. I’m just noise waiting to be carried away by the wind.