“I will pray for you”
These five words set off a landslide of emotions a couple of days ago, and I have been weeding through them ever since.
We’ve all had it happen before, haven’t we? They’re the religious folk who carry pamphlets in their back pockets and purses in search of an opportunity to make a believer out of the common man. They see themselves as messengers of God yet we flee from them like door-to-door salesmen.
It shouldn’t have shaken me when I heard it. I’ve heard those five harmless little words countless times from friends and family members and felt touched, not offended.
But the moment this stranger said these words, I wanted to clobber her with my purse.
“I will pray for you.”
At first, I thought it was my jaded feelings toward religion. Perhaps I was just being touchy. God and I had been at war for quite some time, and the church had no answers for me thus far. In fact, I felt it was part of the problem. Throughout the years I had tried to turn to organized religion only to feel I no longer fit the mold. Sermons would often make me angry. I felt like they were prescribed hype wrapped in a nice, neat, perfect little package.
Instead, I was seeking truth; something that made sense in the midst of the experiences I’ve had. A cookie cutter faith painted in black and white no longer worked for me. I had questions that weren’t pretty or easy to answer. The phrase, “Everything happens for a reason” felt like rubbish, and I began to feel like an outcast in a place where my honesty didn’t belong.
Most of my life has been spent wearing a happy mask for everyone to see while inside I was wounded. It’s only through the last few years that I’ve found peace with myself and the things that made me who I am today. So when I received a negative response toward my doubts and questions, the idea of putting on a mask again and hiding my true feelings horrified me. In the end, I left the church, and the few times I walked through the doors of one afterward were one time experiences that left me convinced I no longer belonged there.
I worried my faith was broken. Then a few years ago I stumbled upon a small Native American book my dad owned filled with transcripts of elders and famous chiefs. Their words struck a chord in me. Between the pages I found reassurance that the ways I had come to know god weren’t wrong. Different perhaps from modern day Christianity. But I found I wasn’t the first to view god and life the way I did, and so I couldn’t be the last.
My church friends weren’t too keen on my new connection. They thought I was straying from god when in truth, I grew closer to him than ever before because for once I felt loved, not condemned. The gavel came off the table. I was free to be loved.
Then came those five words… “I will pray for you.”
Looking back, I see it isn’t the words that rubbed me wrong, but the context. My faith is simple: Love people, give what you can to those in need, and stand up for what is right. Yet for this stranger, that wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know me, my faith, or my story. I was wrong. I was in need of saving. In their eyes my life depended on their prayers. Again, my soul “hung in the balance” of someone else’s views on God.
I didn’t want those prayers. I openly refused them.
Then I had a conversation tonight about God and faith and church which ended in an invitation to attend a service. What did I say? Well… I said yes.
It was in that moment I realized the church or organized religion wasn’t what bothered me. It’s the inability to be honest in an environment built upon the support and growth of what we call faith. Only when we can be transparent with ourselves in a community that embraces us as we are will we begin to see this thing we call god.
Only then will there be room for truth.
Every step you take should be a prayer. And if every step you take is a prayer,
then you will always be walking in a sacred manner.
Oglala Lakota Holyman