I cannot emphasize enough the “with” in praying with others for healing. Sometimes we tell people, “I will pray for you.” And, this is commendable, especially when we follow through and intercede on their behalf before God. Imagine, though, asking if you can pray with them for a moment right then and there in the office hallway, lunch room, street corner, or grocery store aisle. Imagine taking an extra thirty seconds to a minute out of your day to spend time with someone in need. And, in the midst of that short prayer, opening up a door for heaven to heal them right then and there. Or, if the prayer isn’t for healing, opening heaven’s gate for blessing, guidance, support and speaking love into their situation. We cannot say that Jesus didn’t call you and me to do this. The previous blog posts speak directly to that. He calls us to bring the kingdom to bear everywhere we travel; there’s no vacation from our mission. The problem, then, for us becomes one of both conquering fear and stepping out in faith (the two go together).
The Only Way through the Awkward is through It
There is no halfway point between praying with someone and not praying with someone. We will have no comfortable middle ground to stand on until we are ready. Sometimes a moment presents itself to pray with someone and we “psych” ourselves out. It happens to me, too. I find the best way to deal with those missed opportunities is to simply a prayer for that person, tell God thank you for the opportunity and ask for the grace for the next time. Beating myself up about it never encourages me for the next time, it only makes it a bigger deal than it is and I end up psyching myself out the next time. So, being gentle with yourself, trusting in the loving, patient, and kind mercy of our Heavenly Father will always be the best approach when starting to pray directly with others for blessing, healing, or intercession. The point is, though, that there’s no middle ground between praying with someone and not praying with someone. It’s a matter of stepping out and going for it, even stumblingly so. You have been given so much from Jesus, we just need to work at it and practice.
How to Start
When I first began praying with people, I was a seminarian. The context was usually during a youth retreat at the time when the teens knew they were going to be prayed over by someone. That context helped me get comfortable praying “off the cuff,” but it didn’t help me in those non-retreat, ordinary moments. Even as a priest, it can be difficult to ask people to pray with them in a given moment when it is outside the context of the anointing of the sick. People react in different ways. For some people, prayer is a difficult thing to do with others. So, if I ask people to pray at that moment, wherever we are, and they say something like “that’s okay, just pray for me when you have the chance,” then I make sure to pray for them when I have the chance. I don’t force my ministry on others, and I don’t suggest you do that either. Most of the time people are encouraged by the prayer time with them, even if it is less than a minute of spontaneous prayer that I’m stumbling over my words searching for the words to pray. This is why St. Paul tells us that love is the most important key to all of this. Praying with someone is just taking a moment to love them through prayer.
When I first started asking people to pray with them on the spot, I began with these words, “Hey, I’m not the best at this on the spot, but if it is okay with you I’d like to just pray right now. Is that okay?” I found that when people saw that I wasn’t totally comfortable with myself, and I was humble enough to admit it, it made them more comfortable. Humility is a gift that opens doors. So, if you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t even know where I’d begin or what I’d say,” then I want to let you know that that is the best intro- to give to someone. Tell them exactly that. Say something like, “I’ve been listening to you and want to pray for you. I’m not sure where to begin or what to say in prayer. But, if you’re okay with me not being great at praying aloud, I’d like to still pray for you right now, if you’re comfortable with that.” Just be honest. Be humble. Be gentle. And, don’t force someone to pray with you. No one should feel like they’re being held “hostage” by our compassion.
If you keep stepping out and practicing, it gets easier. I still stumble time and again. I still need to pray for courage to step out and pray with people. Believe me, I’m no expert at this. But, I know that God wants to use me and he wants to use you to bring his kingdom to bear upon the earth. Trust that mission of the Father that he has for you.
The following is a mental outline that I use to guide me when I’m praying with someone. The good news is that it’s pretty intuitive. I found it in Mary Healy’s book titled Healing. When I teach people to pray with others, this is the outline I use. We see Jesus using a similar pattern when he prays. Here’s the brief outline with some details.
First we listen to what is going on. Listening is itself a healing work of mercy. So, we want to know what we’re praying for and that is the first step: listen for what you’re praying for with someone.
Second, based on what they say, we take a second to just note what that prayer is. Am I praying for healing, a blessing, for guidance, for support, etc. Selecting the prayer will help make the rest of the time of prayer easier, because you’ll know where you’re going.
The third step is praying. Pray aloud so that the person here’s your words. But, make sure you’re praying to God and not simply speaking for them to hear you unless you have a nudge from the Spirit to speak to them. The reason I say this is because sometimes when we are supposed to be praying to God, we end up simply talking for them to hear. It’s a fine point, and I don’t mean to cut too fine a line with it, nor do I want to make it a hard and fast point. But, when you’re praying, just pray. Keep the prayers simple. And, the good news in this is that the time of prayer doesn’t have to be long. Again, we don’t want to hold people hostage. I usually ask people to close their eyes when I pray and then I keep my eyes open while I pray with them. This helps me see when the prayer time needs to wrap up, because people usually start shifting or they’ll open their eyes. When people indicate by their body language or words that they are done, I stop. I usually don’t pray for a long time. The time of prayer is usually a minute or two. I want to pray trusting that God hears me and I don’t want to give the impression that I need to convince God to do good things for them. God wants to do good things for them. Prayer isn’t twisting Heaven’s arm, it’s opening Heaven’s gate and the key is faith. When you pray, pray as you can with the simple words that you have. We don’t need to invent poetry on the spot, we just need to talk like children to a Heavenly Father who hangs on our every word.
The fourth step includes me asking them if there’s anything else or if something is going on during prayer. This can be strange for people, because we don’t usually expect something to happen right there at that very moment. But, I find that God is often up to something right then and there that we can sense and know. It isn’t every time. Some things remain hidden. But, sometimes people have a sense of peace, God’s presence, or something comes to mind that they want to share. This too is not an interrogation or investigation, it’s more of a “checking in”. It doesn’t take long, seconds. But, based on that, I usually have a feel for whether or not to wrap it up or pray for just a bit longer. If a little more prayer is called for, go back to step three. If it’s time to conclude the prayer, move to the last step.
The final step is letting them know you love them and will keep praying for them. If the prayer was about something that you can direct them to resources to help or a Scripture verse, go ahead and offer that at this time. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “hugging it out,” as they say. This step is about ending the time of prayer and moving back into the day. It’s usually a little off putting if someone spends a long time going on about advice and giving counselling to someone. Generally, people don’t enjoy being analyzed or told what they ought to do or not do. I say this not as a hard and fast rule, but more as a strong suggestion: keep it about them and just let them know they are loved. We want people to have a positive experience of prayer and not feel like we think we’re the super-duper spiritual ones offering them gleanings of wisdom from our contemplative heights. Keep this last step humble and warm with love.
As you see in this, I don’t tell you the words to use. I did this for a reason: it’s about you praying and not a recipe. Prayer isn’t saying a formula and then out comes a result. Prayer is about speaking to our Heavenly Father, Jesus, and/or the Spirit (or asking a saint to intercede) and asking in faith, i.e. trust. The prayer is personal and spontaneous and flexible. It’s no “one size fits all” pattern; although, we can often start falling into a “style” of prayer particularly our own as we step out more and more to pray. Hopefully this freedom offers you space to try out spontaneous prayer on your own. It’s okay to not know what to say and to just start talking to God for them. Again, this type of prayer outline I gave is meant to be something that can be done within a short minute at a water cooler with a coworker, friend. We don’t need to be “in the mood” to pray. And, we don’t need to get a “spiritual voice” when we pray. All we need to do is talk to the Trinity. It’s that simple. There’s no tricks. It’s stepping out and practicing it.
With this crisis on our hands right now, people will want prayer all the more. Pray for peace with people. Pray for protection. Intercede for their loved ones they care about. Pray over the phone with your own loved ones. It can feel strange to pray over the phone if you’ve never done that, but when I’ve done that with people, I find that it is a beautiful experience, even if it is only a few short words of prayer for them and what they’re going through. I was prayed with over the phone one time and the priest used these words, “Heavenly Father, I don’t know what Fr. Bearer needs, but I know that You do. Please help him in this time. Grant him peace. And, fill him with Your Spirit. Amen.” I’ll tell you what, that was the exact prayer I needed. I didn’t need someone telling me they had all the answers. I just needed someone to pray with and for me, even a short prayer. So, again, don’t worry about having all the answers or about being a “professional” pray-er. Just be you, with where you’re at, with what you know and let God do the rest. You have so much to offer people: you have Jesus and his Holy Spirit in you. You were made for this by your baptism. Step out. Try it out. Practice. And, keep praying for people. It is what we were called to do.