by Ellen Kogstad | May 4, 2020
Jesus was asked an astute question, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In this year filled with angst and fear what can we even say or pray. No words are adequate, our sighs too deep for words. Watching the governor’s afternoon briefing, clicking on the John Hopkins coronavirus map, reading papers, or listening to the news are emotionally draining reminders of an unfamiliar, unsafe world.
On a daily walk, the disciple’s query popped into my mind. His question is now my question: Lord, teach me to pray. I have dozens of books on prayer and thick files on prayer practices but nothing has fit this season just right. Waiting for the Lord to direct my praying takes the burden off me to know what to pray and how to pray. I do not have to be a prayer expert. In a season where “I’ve got nothin,” what I do have comes from the Spirit deep within.
Asking Jesus the question throughout my day has opened my ears and given me words to use:
My chaplain friend works in a nursing home on lock down. I can pray for her and the residents and by extension all in similar situations.
Doulas are not allowed in hospitals. They must coach moms in labor virtually. I can pray for the safe arrival of pandemic babies.
My hair stylist has family in Italy. I can pray for them and the devastation in their land.
Exchange students are stuck in the U.S. and need to get home. I can pray for these teenagers and their anxious parents.
A cousin in Norway called. I can pray for my family there and the country.
Hate crimes against people of Asian descent are rising. I can pray for their protection.
I can pray for my work colleagues and those they love.
I can pray for North Park seminary students in Stateville Correctional Center.
I can pray for the homeless and hungry who were already suffering.
I can pray for health care workers tired and stressed, fearful and vulnerable.
I can pray for the dying and those who mourn them.
I can pray for scientists searching for answers.
I can pray with tears knowing “You have kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. (Psalm 56:8, The Message)
I can pray for God to have mercy on the world created long ago, a world so beloved God sent Jesus.
Being released from knowing what to pray,
we are also free from naming and claiming outcomes.
The Awareness Examen is a prayer practice that reviews the day in order to notice God with us or the minutes and hours where we forgot Emmanuel. Jesus had a similar line of thinking with the phrase, “give us this day our daily bread.” It has been impossible to fathom a tiny virus upsetting the world order for billions of people, for months and years to come. I cannot grasp it. Our friends in 12-step programs live by the phrase “one day at a time.” Today the next right thing is to listen to the world and pray for what I hear. Tomorrow will have enough cares of its own.
Answered prayer is really code for God gave me what I wanted. Being released from knowing what to pray, we are also free from naming and claiming outcomes. When I practice No End Result Praying, I trust that it is God working all things for the good. Cupping our hands together, placing each need in those hands, and raising them upwards is a faithful prayer style. One by one, we entrust each person, each concern to the One who sees. We entrust, God acts.
Set prayers like The Lord’s Prayer remind us of trusted words through the centuries. When my father was in hospice care, the night prayer before sleep from The Divine Hours held me.
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen”
It holds me again as I lament for our world while trusting in the nearness of the Lord to all humanity. Lord, thank you for teaching me how to pray in this pandemic.
About the Author
Ellen Kogstad is a spiritual director. She works as Director of the C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction at NPTS. Ellen is also the founder of New Moms and its Director of Spiritual Formation.