As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
The other day, I visited a local garden conservatory, intermittently rolling (on my power wheelchair) and strolling (using my cane) down paths of vibrant flowers interspersed with soulful trees. Immersed in beauty, I was startled when a nicely dressed older gentleman sitting on a bench called to me as I passed him by.
“What’s your story?” he rumbled loudly, shooting a pointed stare at my cane. He didn’t give me a moment to reply before continuing, “It looks like you’re in need of a tune-up!”
Without asking if I was open to being prayed for, he then began commanding God to heal my body in the name of Jesus.
Once the man finished praying, he turned away from me. Our interaction was over, his Christian duty done, even though he hadn’t asked my name, taken a moment to learn anything about me, or shown even a pretense of interest in my life.
I presume he thought he already knew my entire story based on the fact I use mobility and communication equipment, seeing me only as a disabled woman whose sole need was for a Christian Hero to come along and convince God to heal me.
Interactions such as this have become commonplace in the three-and-a-half years since I began using a wheelchair. Comparatively, no one ever randomly approaches my husband (who doesn’t have disabilities) to pray for him.
In the past two months alone, I’ve had six encounters with praying strangers (four with Christian faith healers who prayed for me on the spot as well as a young Muslim woman at a museum and an elderly Catholic nun on the city bus, both of whom said they would be praying for me).
Of the six, only the Catholic nun left me with a feeling of gentleness and care. The way she talked to me and the gentleness of her spirit left me with a confidence that this was a woman who truly walks and talks deeply and humbly with God.
The rest were forceful. As soon as it became obvious I wasn’t healed, they all awkwardly scuttled away, leaving me to my pain and disability.
To be clear, prayer itself isn’t the problem. Prayer is the way we talk to and build relationship with our savior. The prayers and love I’ve received from friends and fellow church members have carried me on days when I literally couldn’t carry myself.
It is love that makes the difference.
Nearly all of the prayers from strangers have been by people who briefly darted into my life, claimed a healing over me that did not happen, and then darted out just as quickly, without ever taking time to know me or show me love.
They don’t know I’ve had hundreds or even thousands of prayers offered by friends and strangers alike over the past almost 20 years (when I was in a disabling car crash). They don’t know that despite all these prayers, God has not (yet) chosen to heal me or remove this thorn from my flesh. They don’t know the heartbreak it’s been to make peace with the fact that I still live with pain and disability. They don’t know that aggressive prayer by strangers is like having salt rubbed in my wounds in the name of Jesus.
They also don’t know that my life is about so much more than my disabilities. The fact is, they don’t know me.
It hurts to be unknown while being singled out only for my disabilities. And it is this feeling of being unknown that I want to use as a catalyst for change and personal growth.
It is a temptation we all face as we go about our daily lives, to superficially interact with others, skimming the surface while never really taking the time to truly know those God has brought into our lives.
This feeling of being unknown challenges me to self-reflect on the ways I, myself, run into people’s lives, see them only through a stigmatized perception, and dash away, never having shown love.
When I greet a neighbor on the street, do I take the time to really see the person, or do I just say hello and rush on by? When I see a homeless man with a shopping cart, do I avert my eyes away from his poverty, forgetting this is someone’s beloved son?
When a newcomer enters my church, do I say to myself, “Someone else will greet her,” before heading over to talk to my friends?
When I mother my children, do I take the time to truly listen to them and deeply know them?
My heartfelt prayer is that the Holy Spirit will reveal the ways in which I am a clanging cymbal, as described in 1 Cor. 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
It inspires me to reflect on the many times I have quietly prayed for the needs of another who is in crisis. And then followed up my prayer by walking away without even small actions of gentleness and love during the person’s time of need.
And also to reflect on the times I have boldly told God the solution I wanted him to make happen for a problem, but then moved on without listening to what the Father wanted to say back to me.
Prayer is a conversation, and any good conversation should not be one-sided. Yet how many times have I scuttled away from an opportunity to know God’s heart?
We are called to wholeheartedly know and love the people God brings across our paths, by following the example of Jesus, who literally laid down his life to save others.
Jesus, who loved to pray and commune with the Father, never just prayed and then looked away and moved on. May we follow his powerful example of love in all we do, with all we encounter, in every prayer we pray.