I was a Baptist for the first 27 years or so of my life, and even now I can’t claim to be the biggest Lent observer. Already, my three kids, lifelong Methodists so far, are much more into the American and/or Methodist tradition of “giving something up” than I am.
But I have started one new practice, which accidentally corresponds to Lent. So I’m going to say it’s part of my Lenten observation this year—although I hope it lasts the rest of my life. For the first time, I’m actually reading the daily “Prayer Concerns and Celebrations” email that I get from the North Georgia Conference, which describes deaths, major illnesses, childbirths, etc., affecting the lives of my fellow Methodist clergy, the vast majority of whom I haven’t met.
I’m not proud of the fact that I haven’t paid attention to these emails. But when my mother died recently, one of the best, most loving gestures of support for me were cards that I received from fellow clergy who read about Mom’s death in this email. I didn’t even know some of these clergy! But they wanted me to know that they stood beside me in my grief and were praying for me.
This gesture—taking the trouble to handwrite a card, stamp it, and mail it—is small, I know. But it’s not nothing. So now I’m taking time to do that each week, too.
In my line of work I’m inundated with prayer requests, often for people I don’t know. Sometimes they’re like, “My aunt’s next-door-neighbor’s cousin has gout.” I often don’t know how to pray for strangers, and I wonder what difference my prayer in that situation would make. It can’t be that God is going to do one thing concerning this person’s aunt’s next-door-neighbor’s cousin, and then when he receives my prayer, God does something else. I have a hard enough time praying for people I know!
But I do know how to pray for people facing the death of a loved one. And for at least the length of time it takes me to look up a person’s address, write the note, meter the envelope, and drop it in the mail, I pray for that person. And maybe in the process of doing so, God is transforming me into a more loving and caring person. I hope so.
As I said a while back, I don’t want to care about appearing to love people (a constant temptation for us pastors who are in the business of caring); I want to actually love people. This small gesture, I hope, is a step in that direction.