When we pray we offer petitions to God seeking God’s help and nearer presence in our lives. Some prayers are offered just to praise God. Others seek forgiveness and pardon. Many are intercessory prayers asking God to help people in trouble and to heal those who are ill. We participate in God’s healing gifts with our prayers.
What we may forget in our prayer practices is that prayer changes us. When we pray for the needs of others we are often inspired to become God’s hands and feet to make a difference for those for whom we pray. When we pray for peace and the healing of hatred in our world, we may find that the best place to initiate peace is within ourselves.
Edward Hays in one of his daily devotionals recalls the anthropologist Frances Harwood who asked a Sioux elder why his people tell stories, and he answered, “In order to become human beings.” Harwood then asked, “Aren’t we all human beings already?” The old Sioux smiled and answered,
“Not everyone makes it.” Father Hays continues by asking the question whether or not we have become human beings. “To be a human is to be humane – civilized, compassionate, charitable, and kind. The opposites of these humane attributes are cruelty, selfishness, rudeness, and lack of caring.”
It is good to remember that our prayers are not only offered to help others in their troubles but are a reminder to become more humane in all that we do. When we are tempted to offer harsh words about another person, which may even be true, do we temper our talk so that we don’t contribute to the mindset of anger? Sometimes reflecting on the actions of politicians we feel that we have permission to speak as many angry words as we like. Would it not be better to withhold our temper? Again, do we say a prayer for the person who tries to engage us in road rage? Do we bless instead of curse? Do we look for the good in others or do we concentrate on their faults? When we tease others is there a hurtful note in our jest? When we see someone fail do we add our own condemnation or do we respond with compassion – “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I am amazed at the many opportunities we have each day to be mean-spirited. But giving into meanness doesn’t help us to be humane. It pulls us back to our rough animal instincts. And sometimes by contrast our pets can be more humane than we by forgiving our faults and continuing to love us unconditionally. If only we could offer unconditional love to everyone and learn to be truly humane. Remember to let your prayer change you.