Prayer and Old Ladies

“Flash Prayers” is an excellent idea developed by Frank Laubach in his many books on prayer. He purposed to learn how to live so that “to see anybody will be to pray! To hear anybody, as these children talking, that boy crying, may be to pray!” Flashing hard and straight prayers at people is a great thrill and can bring interesting results. I have tried it, inwardly asking the joy of the Lord and a deeper awareness of his presence to rise up within every person I meet. Sometimes people reveal no response, but other times they turn and smile as if addressed. In a bus or plane we can invite Jesus to walk down the aisles, touching people on the shoulder and saying, “I love you. My greatest delight would be to forgive you and give you good things. You have beautiful qualities still in the bud that I would unfold if only you will say yes. I’d love to rule your life if you’ll let me.” Frank Laubach has suggested that if thousands of us would experiment with “swishing prayers” at everyone we meet and would share the results, we could learn a great deal about how to pray for others. We could change the whole atmosphere of a nation if thousands of us would constantly throw a cloak of prayer around everyone in our circle of nearness. “Units of prayer combined, like drops of water, make an ocean which defies resistance.” – From Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster

I haven’t really been in the stablest of emotional states over the past few months. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I have realized that my normal conception of “stability” is rather more of a state of denial, of suppressing anxiety and worry and responsibility and stress, not of peace and security. As a result, I’ve been moved by several things of late, which is in some ways frustrating and in many ways refreshing.

Anyways, I tried this “Flash Prayer” thing at Peets the other morning. I looked out the window at people passing by on the sidewalk, people crossing the street, people driving cars, the people in line ordering coffee… I prayed that they would know Jesus and his hope and the joy of his presence, I prayed the same for myself. I looked at them and felt my heart at turns break and soften. It broke because I recently read in that “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” article in The Atlantic that about 1 in 4 Americans admit to having nobody to talk to about important matters… Not a single person out of the millions of people that inhabit the cities around them is seen as a close friend or confidant. I imagined a quarter of all the people I saw even in that moment, perhaps ten of them, living in abject loneliness and despair at ever really being known. I could have wept for them then and there in the coffee shop… if I wasn’t such a man. (Just kidding, I did tear up a bit though.) My heart also softened as I reflected on the idea that, if you could stop yourself for one second, in your anger or lust or frustration or sadness, and really pray and try to meet God in that moment, to ask him what he thinks of the person who is the object or cause of those feelings… what would be the result? Could we stay angry or continue to lust? Would our frustrations and feelings of being wronged loom so large? I think not.

Today I was at the counter at In n Out ordering a milkshake. An old lady, maybe in her 70s, with a cane came to pick up her burger. She had also ordered a hot water (Who does that? Old people, that’s who.) but didn’t have enough hands to carry both her tray and her water because of her cane. A guy in line volunteered to help her carry her things to her table, and I thought, “Aw, that’s nice.” As I waited for my shake I looked around to see where she’d settled. I saw that she’d made it safely to one of the two-person corner tables. I wondered who she was with and after a minute realized that she was alone. She sat there, carefully unwrapping her burger; she stopped and bowed her head to pray for her meal. Something about the whole thing was just so poignant, I can’t really put it into words. A little old lady came to eat at In n Out alone, sitting at a table that someone had to help her get her food to, praying over her meal. What was her story? Where was her family?

Andrew and I wondered if maybe this was some ritual, that perhaps she and her late husband used to come to In n Out every Cinco De Mayo to celebrate some important milestone in their life together. Maybe she was remembering something. Or maybe, I thought later, she was just an old lady who loves In n Out and didn’t feel like talking to anyone while eating a delicious hamburger. Maybe her husband was napping at home. Perhaps I was being the type of person I so fear when I decide I want to eat a meal alone. I am always wary of people judging me, thinking, “What if they think I’m a big loser with no friends and that’s why I’m eating alone??”

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~ by justinhong on May 6, 2012.

One Response to “Prayer and Old Ladies”

  1. I like the thoughts on flash prayers. Reminds me of when we tried this thing out at prayer team (the year after you left) when we sat at Strada and did that very thing.

    And you _are_ a big loser for eating alone, until you hit your 70s and then you just get to be a cute old man.

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