How to Actually Pray for Someone When You Say You Will
“I’m praying for you!” It’s become a cliché shared among Christians who want to offer support to someone they know who is struggling or hurting, yet they don’t know what else to say or do. Most of us find that, once we sit down to pray, we feel bogged down by the sheer number of people and intentions we promised to pray for. And then we promptly forget because of the overwhelm.
Other times, prayer seems like a trite response to a person who may need us to sit with them in their pain. It’s easy to say we’ll pray for someone, because it sounds like a gift. And it should be. But it’s far more likely we’ll lose the specifics or forget someone’s name and then chuck the idea altogether, especially when we’re sleep deprived or hustling a brood of small children or transitioning from work to home.
I’m not perfect at remembering to pray for every single request that comes my way. I’m also not a fan of telling someone I’ll pray for her, unless it naturally evolves from an honest connection. Even so, I receive unsolicited requests from family and strangers alike, and here’s what has helped me stay faithful to the call to pray for those who need it most.
ASK TO PRAY WITH THE PERSON IN THE MOMENT.
There are opportune times when the Holy Spirit moves us to pray aloud, in the moment, with another person. This may happen with someone you know well or a complete stranger you just happened to have a deep conversation with. Offering to pray with someone is usually met with gratitude from the recipient and brings comfort when he is in deep distress.
I know this can be awkward to initiate, especially for Catholics. We are not formed in a spontaneous, evangelical demonstration of our faith. Many of us prefer to keep our expression of prayer private, which is beautiful in itself. But asking someone who is crying or grieving or uncertain or overwhelmed, “Do you mind if we pray together right now?” or “Can I pray for you now?” breaks the tension and allows the Holy Spirit to heal in the present moment.
Trust that the words will come to you as they need to. Pray from the depths of your heart. Hold the person’s hand if they are comfortable, close your eyes, and sincerely reach into the conversation you’re having so that the prayer is a true gift of love and leaves the recipient feeling consoled.
KEEP A PRAYER JOURNAL.
Because I am a writer and speaker, I receive prayer requests via email and social media quite frequently. I don’t know those who are contacting me, and maybe that’s why they reach out to someone who doesn’t know their face or name in real life. It seems to be non-threatening to share stories of trauma and abuse and even spiritual warfare issues with a person whose writing you have become acquainted with.
Regardless of how you receive prayer requests, commit to praying for the intentions that seem to need ongoing heavenly support by writing it down somewhere. I just started a prayer journal last year. It is exclusively for written prayer requests. We keep the journal in our living room near the space where devotionals, bibles, and statues are kept. This is for easy access and as a universal act of solidarity for our family.
Inside, any member of the family can write down a prayer request, either for him/herself or for someone else. I paste photos and funeral cards inside to remember to pray for the repose of the faithful departed. My husband jots down serious issues he hears about from coworkers, such as an employee whose sister recently gave birth to her second child and has been diagnosed with stage three neuroblastoma.
Our older two girls dictate their prayers, and Felicity may write her own down as she wishes. Usually these are for the poor, the homeless, and friends they know whose parents have divorced. Sometimes Sarah prays for people’s sick pets.
The point of the journal is that a) no prayer request is unimportant or insignificant and b) for easy recall. When I am at a loss as to how or for whom to pray, I simply open up the journal and find a name or circumstance that jogs my memory and propels me into heartfelt petition on behalf of the one in need.
OFFER INTENTIONS TO THE BLESSED MOTHER.
A good friend of mine told me years ago that she got easily overwhelmed with the number of prayer intentions she had committed to offering up for others. It had come to a point in which the list of names she was praying for became a longer litany than the amount of time it took her to pray her rosary!
Her solution? Offer up every intention to Our Lady, entrusting each person’s intention to her Motherly care. It may sound lazy, but it’s actually a very powerful form of confidence in her ability to intercede for us. Plus, it’s an extension of one’s devotion to her. To say, “Dear Blessed Mother, I entrust every person and their needs to your care. Please protect them, grant them the peace of your Son, and keep them in God’s grace” demonstrates how much we trust in her intercession and God’s providence.
PRAY FOR SOMEONE OR A SITUATION AS IT OCCURS TO YOU.
Finally, be attuned to the Holy Spirit. Almost every time I sit down to pray, a person’s name or an image of their face pops into my mind. At first, I took these to be distractions from my prayer, but my mom once mentioned that these may be holy interruptions from God, in which He is asking me to pause long enough to place the needs of these people into His care.
Interestingly, those who come to mind are seldom friends whom I see frequently but are rather the ones I haven’t thought of in years. I find, too, that there might have been a severed relationship with the person who comes to mind, which is another invitation from God for me to pray to forgive them and for healing.