The Prayer (Part III)

Well, looks like someone from this area is reading Yahoo Contributor Network and would like to differ with what I wrote about prayer. Okay, that’s fine. I have to make something clear right now, though. I’m not a priest or pastor or minister and I surely am not a theologian, or even close to being one. I’m a man with a long list of mistakes and misdeeds behind me and I’m trying very hard to understand some things about life. I don’t have any answers but I do have many opinions.

The person who contacted me took issue with just about everything I wrote, but mostly with the idea that God does in fact hear our prayers and does in fact answer them. If that’s the case, he asks, why is the United States currently involved in war after war, and especially when so many people spend so much time praying for peace. If God answers all prayers, he asks, how can this be?

Well, I responded, I don’t know. It was at this stage of our conversation that he called me a cretin and hung up. I like the word cretin, even when it’s thrown at me, but that’s not the point. Answers aren’t always direct. If you ask your neighbor what day he thinks it is, he’ll answer you in terms you can understand. There was a question, followed by an answer. That’s how we see answers, but they’re not always like that.

As I stated, I’m not any kind of clergyman and I cannot quote the Bible to anyone, not with any hope of getting it right. But there was a time when Jesus said “Heal yourself.” When I read that sentence, it says to me that I should take care of myself first and let others take care of their own business. I don’t want anyone rapping on my windows and I’m not going to rap on theirs.

When we pray for world peace, it’s a noble and honorable thing to do and we do get answers, but not the kind we’ve grown accustomed to. When we ask God to help others, and that’s exactly what we do when we pray for world peace, the answer we get comes in ways we can’t quite comprehend. The act of praying for someone other than ourselves is an unselfish act, and that act is rewarded, I think. We may never see world peace even though we pray for it, but we are given internal peace because we asked for it for others.

The state of the world isn’t going to change to suit us, because we all don’t want the same thing. If everyone got what he wanted, we’d have anarchy far worse than we see today. The peace we pray for is given to us, probably in very small measure, but it’s given just the same. When we care enough about strangers, like the man the Samaritan helped, it helps us to receive goodness we can’t feel or even sense. If the world is not at peace, we can be, and when enough of us are at peace, the world will be.

I worked in a homeless shelter for a long, long time and I prayed for many good men. Where they are now and how they’re doing is a mystery to me, but I keep praying for the best, as when I say “I sure hope Jesse’s doing well in Montana.” That’s a prayer. I don’t have concrete proof that these good men are doing well, but I have proof that I’m doing well. I was in the shelter because I belonged there, homeless and with not much good going on in my life.

I’m convinced that I was led to that shelter to find help, because help is what I asked for, and I found it in large part because I was willing to place someone else’s welfare in front of my own. When I prayed for these men, I have no way of knowing if they accepted the help that was offered. I hope so. But the point is this: When I was led away from the shelter and into this new life, I feel it was because I put these men first. Grace and goodness began to fall on me like perfectly ripe peaches and I had not asked for any of it. I prayed for someone else and I got my answer, the one I never dreamed of.

Faith is a deeply personal thing that can’t ever be fully explained, and that’s another facet of life that I’m perfectly comfortable with. It’s not my place to tell you what to believe, and I think I should be given the same consideration. We all should. A belief that doesn’t comport with mine is not a threat to me and if it is, I’ve got a whole bunch of thinking to do, about a whole bunch of things. When I say my life was changed because I tried to help strangers, then that is the truth, for me.

I will believe forever that helping others is why we are here. Beyond that, not too much really matters. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong, but it sure does add meaning to getting up in the morning.

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