Surely I’m not the only mom who’s cringed at the unavoidable (but unsavory) task of accepting the artwork being held out by her small child… You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? A soggy piece of construction paper, drenched with runny paint, dripping in rivulets across the page. And down your child’s arms. And into your purse, if you’re not careful. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there might even be glue. And glitter. You just know that if you touch this glorious bastion of creativity, it’s going to rub off on you, too.
Being creative can be messy.
So can prayer.
Then again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If prayer is, in its simplest form, communication with God — a way of reaching hold of a greater power, the greater power — then wouldn’t you want some of that to rub off?
When you pray for someone, when you don’t just toss up a quick little “help her” prayer, but when you get serious, things change. And not just for the person you’re praying for, but for you. I think this is why Jesus said to pray for your enemies — because when you tear down the walls, when you truly try to remove your own emotions, feelings, and judgments, and you try to see a person as God does — you may find that all of a sudden you have a newfound empathy for that person. You’ll likely discover a new, better understanding of that person’s struggles, choices, and behavior. Judgment may cease. And you’ll have a new story to tell, about the time you got involved and saw things change.
One day at church a woman came up to the altar to be prayed for, and I was one of several people who gathered around her. I prayed, “God, please, surround her with people who can help her.” And my next thought was, as though God spoke right back, “You’re a person.” I was so surprised I opened my eyes. Sometimes the way we can help is by praying. And sometimes prayer will reveal that we can also help by doing.
I will confess, sometimes I’d rather let someone else do the hard stuff, the hands-on, sometimes messy involvement. Just like I’d rather not grab hold of that piece of artwork, lest the runny paint drip down my arm. But I do it anyway, knowing that the long-term benefits of accepting my child’s love offering to me far outweigh the temporary discomfort. In prayer, the marks that are made — the transfer of compassion, the creation of shared experiences and deeply-forged relationships, the changes partly effected by the use of my own hands — now those are marks I can live with.