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We had an event at church tonight, a fall festival in the parking lot.  There were bounce houses, games, cotton candy, and face painting.  Kids and colored wigs everywhere.

And underneath the costumes, and coats, and scarves, there was an awful lot of pain.

I heard stories of loss, and profound disappointment.  Stories for which there are no easy answers, when even offering to pray for someone sounds trite and condescending.  I think sometimes the reason we offer to pray for people is to make an uncomfortable conversation more palatable;  it makes us feel better, as though we’ve done something to help when, in truth, there is nothing that can be done.

This doesn’t fit our culturally sanitized version of Christianity.  I can think of five people right off the top of my head who would be so upset with me for even writing something like that.  We’re supposed to pray with power, and authority, and fix everything and everyone with scriptures, and platitudes, and hollow-sounding affirmations that fall on deaf ears and broken hearts.

Sometimes all you can do is just say how very sorry you are.  And leave it at that.  Sometimes there’s absolutely nothing to say, at all.  I know that when going through the worst of it, people would pray, meaning to help, wanting to do something, and it did nothing for me.  Things that helped?  Something to drink, hot or cold, depending on the day.  Space to be quiet.  Freedom to not talk.  A place to rest.  Sometimes a walk, even if I didn’t feel like talking.  I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t usually listening, either;  I was feeling the warmth of the sun, or the heat of the mug, or the softness of a blanket.  But that’s it.  When you’re grieving, people’s voices seem so far away.  They’re comforting, because it means you’re not alone, but the expectation to hold up your end of a conversation is physically exhausting.  Short, simple questions work best.  Not a lot of them.

My own, constant prayer on a bad day is “Dear God, please hold my heart together.  I can’t do this anymore.  I certainly can’t do this today.”

If we have kids, we do it for them.  I don’t know what people do who don’t have any.  I really don’t know.  I know I wouldn’t be here.

But tonight, dear God, please hold their hearts together.  The people who, for whatever reason, opened their hearts to me tonight.  Help them and hold them.

Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.  – Ephesians 6:10