When I came to the Episcopal Church, one of the things that I appreciated was the reciting and praying of traditional and memorized prayers. I had gotten to a point where I was unable to pray much at all, and so, although the words Our Father were very difficult because my father was very abusive and I have no relationship with him, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer anyway. It was still easier than just chatting with God. My relationship with God was incredibly broken, almost non-existent, and I wanted to speak to God but I’d run out of words. That’s when I learned the value of prayers already written.
I’ve always had trouble with the concept of intercessory prayers, they felt so wrong to me. When I was a little girl, God never answered any of my prayers, or at least, that was my perception back then. I know now that God answered plenty of them, I just wasn’t able to recognize it for a myriad of reasons, but mostly because God never answers prayers quite in the way I would expect, God answers them better and in ways that boggle my mind at times. I also grew out of the idea of God being some kind of lucky charm somewhere along the line. I realized that God didn’t just wave a magic wand and make things happen just because I asked God to. Even if they were really, really, important.
I prayed quite earnestly as a child that my friends would “get saved,” but that didn’t really happen much. I always blamed myself because if I were just a better little girl, and if I would be sweet and smiling and “show the joy of Jesus,” then my friends would want what I had. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, but my friends didn’t pray the magic prayer. I begged God to forgive me for being ashamed of God by not talking about God enough because I didn’t want to get laughed at for my beliefs, and to help me to not send my friends to hell just because I couldn’t take a little teasing. I was so earnest and wanted it so badly and yet, it never did materialize. That was supposed to be the point of my life at that age, recruiting other children to the cult.
I remember as a mother who had just had a child, and pregnant with the next, suffering from depression. The baby was disabled and he never slept, and so that meant I didn’t sleep either. But I had an older child to care for who was barely a toddler, and I had to keep house as well. I begged and begged God to allow me some sleep, and that the baby would sleep “just once.” That child still doesn’t sleep well but God worked amazing things years later to the benefit of that child and the rest of us.
I had no clue what to do when I finally started praying for people again. In fact, I’d only done so because I’d said to a close friend that I’d pray for them, and I didn’t want to promise something and not do it. I was lost on how to accomplish this praying, though. One day a friend and I were talking about the prayer rope and the Jesus Prayer which is the prayer used on the prayer rope. She told me that she used it for her intercessory prayers. Instead of praying the traditional Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, she would remove the “a sinner” part and use the name of the person she was praying for. So if she were praying for me, she would say Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on MaryClare. That concept resonated with me for many reasons.
I’ve come to love doing most of my intercessory prayers that way, there are several benefits. Sometimes I pray for people I really don’t like, and focusing on just the Jesus Prayer and their name takes my feelings about that person out of the picture. My dislike of a person isn’t indicative of whether or not they “deserve” prayer. We all need prayer. It also is useful when I haven’t the words for what I’m trying to express as far as any needs of the person, or perhaps I don’t know what needs they have, and so praying the Jesus Prayer for them lets me pray for them and God to sort out the rest. The Jesus Prayer keeps my mind from wandering when I’m trying to pray for others, and the focus and repetition keep me grounded while praying for others.
I go around my one hundred knot prayer rope multiple times every day, ten knots (meaning ten Jesus prayers), for each person I’m praying for. It might sound too rigid for many people, but for me it works very well and what it does also is to merely ask Jesus to have mercy on them without tryign to dictate how. I’m not trying to run the show, I’m trusting Jesus to do what Jesus does best. It’s taken something so fraught with anxiety and turned it into something beautiful.