I remember spending many hours of my college days sitting in the office of my mentor, Pauline Burthwick. As we would talk I noticed a printed quote on her desk from Thomas Merton. One that has stuck with me to this day:
“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
That quote has stayed with me through many jobs and many seasons of my life. As a youth worker, an IT consultant, a salesperson, a husband, a father, and a friend, those words have been an anchor for me to focus on what matters. Do not depend on the hope of results…it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.
As I begin this prayer journey, I must remind myself not to depend on the hope of results, at least the results that I might be expecting. God may chose to heal someone who is sick, or provide financial assistance to a struggling family or individual but then again there may be a different plan in mind.
I prayed through each request this morning. Each request has been hand-written on a note card with the requester’s name, date, and a word for word (or close summary) description of the request. I like the hand-written cards because it makes it personal for me. In this age of everything digital, copy/paste text, handwritten notes stand out. Do you remember the last time you received or sent a hand-written note, letter, or card? The memory stands out, doesn’t it? By hand-writing these requests, they will stand out for me too. I can carry them with me, jot additional notes from my prayer time, and have something physical to hold on to while praying.
As I hold the cards, they feel heavy. Right now I have 12 cards but the weight they carry is immense. People have lost or are losing friends and family members to disease. There is uncertainty about jobs, the future, or even who they are. People are hurting and in need of mercy. People are in need of truth. People are in need of hope.
As I hold the cards, I am drawn to each story. I am surprised by the connection I feel with the stories and lives. As I pray for health issues, I remember when God carried me through the problem with my kidneys. As I pray for a person who has attempted to take his life, I remember the people in my life who made this attempt, “failed” and are now living a life of hope. I remember the time when I lost a job and was the sole provider of a young family. God gave me hope, carried me through and remained faithful. He didn’t meet my needs in the way I always expected or planned, but he was there every step of the way to meet them.
As I hold the cards, I experience hope. God didn’t meet my needs in the way I expected, and likely he won’t meet the needs of the people on my cards in the way they are expecting. Oftentimes I didn’t know what my true needs were, but God did. God answers our prayers and meets our needs that we don’t know we have in ways we never imagined possible.
Will you, too, take up the call to pray for others? To not depend on the hope of results, but to struggle for specific people and lift them up in prayer?