During Lent this year, my husband and I have embarked on a 40-day adventure of sorts. Initially we went through the list of things we might give up, as tradition would dictate. But this year, to our surprise, we felt compelled in a different direction—to the discipline of adding something to our daily routine instead of taking something away.
And so, during this countdown to Easter, we decided to pray for one friend or family member each day. We asked 40 people how we could specifically pray for their needs on the date set aside for them.
These were all people we knew well, and we figured we were pretty much up to speed on what was happening in their lives. But as the e-mails and calls started rolling in, something unanticipated took place. All at once we were given an invitation to go deeper into their stories, their hurts. Something about this simple invitation—“How can we pray for you?”—cracked open a sacred place between us. A place of sharing real life with one another.
One by one we logged the requests:
• The mother who just days earlier had received the diagnosis: Stage 3 cancer. A tumor the size of cantaloupe.
• The woman who recently got stationed at an army base on the other side of the world and feels so alone.
• The young husband who needs a job to provide for his wife and unborn baby.
• The girl whose father is mentally ill and is desperate to feel God’s Father-love for her.
• The couple who is grieving the baby they never got to meet.
• The man whose wife of 50-plus years is slipping away from him in the grip of Alzheimer’s.
• The older brother who is begging for God’s intervention on behalf of his prodigal brother.
• The aging parents who worry about how to care for their special needs son as their health declines.
According to the Gospel accounts, several women were there with Jesus on the first Good Friday, as he walked that long, arduous road to the cross. The Via Dolorosa, it’s called—“the Way of Suffering.” From a practical standpoint, there wasn’t much these women could do. They couldn’t carry Jesus’ cross, they couldn’t stop his pain, they couldn’t prevent the blow that awaited him at Calvary.
According to tradition, Jesus’ mother and Veronica, among others, walked this road with Jesus, wiping sweat from his face, mourning and wailing for him. They walked with him because they loved him. They walked with him to show him he wasn’t alone during his darkest hour.
Over the past 40 days, some of our prayers have been answered; others have been met with conspicuous silence. But along the way, something unexpected, mysterious, has transpired. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it exactly, there has been a shift in my soul.
As we’ve walked this journey alongside these people we love, we’ve experienced the unexpected blessing of sharing their burdens, their hurts, their crosses. We may not be able to remove their suffering or change what they’re going through, but there are small things we can do. Like wiping their brow. And reminding them that they’re not alone.
When one of our friends sent us his prayer request, he added this note at the end: “I hope, no matter what blessing and grace you seek for others, you yourselves receive grace and blessing from sharing God’s heart and the burden of love.”
He was more right than we possibly could have understood at the time. As we approach Good Friday, the most surprising discovery has not what we’ve given but what we’ve received.
Somehow in the process of trying to extend love, it has splashed back on us instead.