A few years ago I had this simple resolution.
The inspiration for the resolution and the conditions it began with can be found at the website, PrayingforStrangers.com and of course in the book. The most important thing was that everyday I would pray for a different stranger. Someone I passed in the grocery aisle, the bank, or post office. The sidewalk or a restaurant or in the park. It didn’t matter where but just someone different everyday. Someone who might stand out to me in a simple way.
At first my prayers were meant to be silent. Something I kept completely to myself without ever sharing with the person that I was praying for them. But a few weeks into that resolution in 2009, something moved me to speak to a woman in a bus station, to tell her she was my stranger and that I would be praying for her that night before I went to sleep. Her response changed my life forever. She literally responded that she had just been asking God that morning if there was anyone in the whole world that was praying for her. We were both shocked at that moment. She went on and caught the bus home to Kentucky. I went on to pray for strangers. About three or four times a week I’d tell them. The responses from these people are more surprising than you could imagine. Over and over again I would hear, “Funny you choose me today because . . . ” and then the person would continue their story of what was happening on that day or in their lives.
“I am a pastor and I recently read Praying for Strangers. I challenged my church to pray for one stranger a day in 2012. I’ve been doing it too, of course.”
Some of those stories are documented in the book that I never meant to write. After all, I’m a fiction writer. Don’t get me wrong, I strive to communicate eternal truths in my novels but they are through metaphor, through allegory, and a wide array of characters and places. So telling the truth exactly as it happened was difficult for me. It was personal and revealing. It wasn’t a story I wanted to share. But over and over again I’d come home and ask my husband, “Do you want to hear my stranger story?” And over and over again he would ask me if I was writing these stories down. “No,” I’d reply, “I’m working on my new novel,” which was true. The year progressed that way with me ‘journalling’ stories of the people I had met and the encounters we had shared but my ‘real’ writing time was saved for the novel in progress.
“You have changed my life.. I am doing that too… my stranger for today? the receptionist at my eye MD office that looked like she wasn’t having a good day… but when I told her she was my stranger… her faced changed.”
Somewhere along the way that changed. I realized what I was dealing with, the journey I was walking out was larger than the plan I had for my life. That there was something phenomenal happening. I discovered that prayers were thirsty for a touch even from someone they didn’t know. And that on any given day the people around me were hurting while wearing a mask full of smiles. That on each day people were walking through life pretending that everything was okay because they didn’t know what else to do. But when a prayer stepped up to say,
“Today you are my special stranger and tonight I’ll be remembering you in my prayers. I’ll be praying blessings for your life and those you love” — it shook their world.
Caused them to stop in their tracks and become real. Pretenses fell to the wayside. And so did mine.
I’m an introverted writer. I’m very good at putting my blinders on and walking though my days focused on what I need to do and most of the time – what isn’t getting done because I’m always running behind. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always cared about children, the homeless, the elderly, the lost, the weak and so on. I care. But caring from a distance for a large group of people or a worthy cause is different than reaching out everyday to a single human being and becoming part of their story. It takes more time, it involves a greater risk, and if I dare to say, in so many ways in produces a great compassion.
At the end of my 2009 resolution I felt I had checked that box.
I had prayed for strangers everyday in spite of when I didn’t feel like it. On days I didn’t leave home I prayed for someone on the news, a story in a magazine, or a voice on the radio. I prayed my way through thick and thin. On days I felt like I needed prayer much more than anyone I might be praying for. And the year became another year as 2010 rolled over. There I was with a decision lying before me as I walked through stores, took in people, really beheld them. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop this thing.
That one year of a resolution had indeed rolled into something larger. I had so many experiences of how speaking to people and telling them they were my special stranger had positively affected people that I couldn’t rob them of that now. I also couldn’t rob myself of the experience. What I had learned and what is portrayed in Praying for Strangers is how that resolution affected me. How it changed me. Trust me, you can’t pray for over 300, 600, 800 strangers and not be changed. If I was a compassionate woman before, I’m so much more so now. If I was judgmental before, now – not so much.
And I’ve begun to see how we all fit together in this life. How very much we need each other. In the simplest and surprising ways. And how sometimes the mission field we’ve long to visit or to serve in is the mission field just out our own front doors.
The new year rolled over again with the momentous 2012 dawning. Since the publication of Praying for Strangers others have gone out into their neighborhoods, their stores, their cities and begun to pray for strangers. Entire churches of all denominations have adopted this resolution in cities across the nation.
There has been such an interest in making a difference in this world that people requested additional information of ways that they might begin to step out and take this journey. In response to those requests there are now Twelve Keys in Twelve Weeks to Praying for Strangers posted on the website including journal reflection questions and small group discussion points. The book club readers guide may be found here.
“My stranger today is named Brenda from the store. She has Lupus which was acting up this week. Praying for her today. Praying for relief from pain.”
What began as a book that I never wanted to write has become a lifestyle not only for me but now for thousands of others. I’ve included some of their comments because they surprise me continually. They move me and keep me looking outward instead crumbling inside myself on any given day when the battle before me seems greater than my strength to overcome it. When I am sad, weary, disheartened – for whatever human reason I juggle on any given day – I reach out to a stranger who may only whisper a quick, “Thank you,” as I go on and it makes a difference. My burden lifts. My soul shifts. And I don’t feel so alone.
“I recently finished your book, “Praying for Strangers” and I have not been the same since. It really confirmed something in my spirit that I’ve known for a long time. There are no chance meetings, no interaction with another that is too small to make a big difference. God is so good.”
Last night my stranger was a little girl that will never know me. She was about seven years old and wearing a frog hat with green sneakers. I think she must like frogs. I said a very silent but heartfelt prayer for that little girl’s destiny. For her protection and joy, for her whole long life ahead of her. Today I still smile when I think of her. And the most bizarre thing to me is that I will never forget her. These strangers take up special residence in my life, they now have their own place. On any given day I remember any one of them and again, pray for goodness in their life. It’s only a pause, a passing prayer, a compassionate moment but something in my heart of hearts says it matters. A lot.
As this new year takes shape and form for you, as you step into known routines and unknown days, I would encourage you to consider as so many people have now, embracing this one tiny thing that you can do. To pray for a stranger. It may make more of difference in their life than you will ever know. I have no doubt whatsoever that it will make a difference in yours.
About the Author: River Jordan is a critically acclaimed novelist. Praying for Strangers is her first published work of non-fiction. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Owen Hicks, where she produces and hosts the weekly radio program Clearstory. She writes a regular blog for Psychology Today titled, Praying for Strangers. The book was just featured in Guideposts magazine for January 2012 as “A New Way to Pray”. Since 2009 she has prayed for a multitude of strangers and continues on that journey.Leave a Comment
Charina @ Pondered Thoughts says
A prayer, a smile, a hello – simple things to let somebody know that somebody cares for them, that God loves them.
All good things.
Brittnie (A Joy Renewed) says
Wow – this is awesome. Thanks for sharing your resolution.
Praying for ourselves is a wonderful tool for healing the wounds left by life, but praying for others is indeed just as important. It’s through prayer that we gain the introspection necessary to realize that we are all in the same boat, subject to the same hopes, fears, dreams, joys, and hardships along the path of life. I believe that the only universal language is love. The only way to express that language is through compassion and kindness. Prayer is one of the greatest kindnesses we are capable of because it goes directly to the source – the creator, in whose hands we all must lay our faith, and who gave us the gift of hope.
Julie Sunne says
Love it! I do pray for others often, often strangers or mere acquaintances. Hmm, perhaps it’s time to expand regularly to strangers and maybe even let them know. Wonderful, servant resolution.
I’ve done this…prayed for strangers. Not all the time but I probably should. Sometimes it happens when I am driving on the freeway and I see someone broken down on the side of the road. I pray for them. Also randomly in a supermarket when I passed the courtesy desk, I once prayed for them. Something happens when I do that. I feel something different inside. It’s empowering even if the stranger never knows he or she has been prayed over. Thanks for this post because now I will be more mindful to do it more often.
River Jordan says
Prayer? Oh, I do so need it in my life. I just wrote a personal note to each of you and my internet kicked me off and erased it. The very short version –
Thank you so much for visiting, reading, commenting, and sharing.
Thank you for sharing on (in)courage today. I loved your story of how you pray for total strangers. What joy you must have felt when you told the stranger you were praying for them, and the gratitude they must have felt even if they didn’t say so. I often pray for those I read or hear about in the news. Now I will begin praying for those I see during the day. What a wonderful way to bless a total stranger. and then be blessed by God for reaching out to someone new. I will be ordering your book for me and one for my church library. Thank you.
This is a great post. I’m losing everything I have from my home, marriage and business and need all the prayer in the world but I think that I’m going to take up this challenge and prayer for a stranger each day.
River Jordan says
Deanna, you are right. The prayer I give always blesses me. Even when the person doesn’t know which is frequently. Compassion and love must be good medicine for the soul. Thank you for ordering and sharing Praying for Strangers!
Leslie, I jumped over to your personal blog and it was a blessing to me. If we faint not . . . but we do grow weary don’t we? In the midst of one of the toughest years of my life for many reasons – praying for strangers continued to bless me and help me look beyond my personal circumstances. I pray your year is filled with the surprise of renewal.
Yes prayer is great I pray for people all the time I even email people prayer
River Jordan says
Phoebe, I have received those emailed prayers from friends who were thinking of me and it always seemed to be a day I needed it most.
I used to pray for people all the time one time at work I was slently praying for a customer who was speaking to me and at the end of the call she said please keep me in your prayers which was weird because I didn’t tell her I was praying for her. I’m going to make it a resolution this year! Thanks I thought I was the only one that did that
River Jordan says
Helen, I’ve been so hearted by the stories like yours that have surfaced on book tour and by email notes. I’m writing a follow up blog on Friday here and want to talk about that and how many people are out here doing this – and like you, many have been doing so for a long time!
Mary Beth says
This is an answer to prayer for me. I am financially, physically and emotionally bankrupt. I feel like my prayers are going nowhere. Praying for strangers will give me a purpose for my life. I have thought of something like this before but never did it for any length of time. This will give me a reason to journal. I’ll have a good way to forget about myself.
River Jordan says
Mary Beth, HANG IN THERE. I’ve also posted 12 Keys in 12 weeks to Praying for Strangers on my website. That does have those journal kind of questions/thoughts. I’d love to see a companion journal published along with the book. Journaling seems to help everything. So does praying for others. Wishing you Peace tonight in the middle of the storm.
Beth Williams says
What a great idea. I sometimes will pray for the people in front of me in a “less than perfect” vehicle, or people at grocery stores who are ill. I never thought of walking up to some stranger and saying “I’m praying for you”.
What a great mission field that is. I, too, love to be missions oriented-helping others. What a better way than praying for someone–it blesses them and you!
Thanks for an inspiring post!
River Jordan says
Beth, Thanks for visiting. Lots of imperfect vehicles out there. And what I’ve found and also write about in the book is the people who looked ‘perfect’ on the outside were just as troubled on any given day and just as thankful for a strangers touch. It’s a great way to realize that we are so much more alike than we realize. I hope you continue to pray as you are inspired for people who I know will appreciate it!
I’ve been praying for strangers for decades.
Being in a wheel chair, going down the sidewalk, I have the opportunity to see/observe things many folks don’t…..stressed out people (in cars) at the stop light, folks waiting for the public transportation…..so all my trips, going and coming are for the host of people I see along the way.
Or sometimes I pray for all those who are grieving or angry or hurt…..pulls us out of ourselves and connects us with others…..
River Jordan says
How amazing! I bet you do see things that many people miss in the hustle and bustle. Yes, my praying for others has helped me tremendously in not getting bogged down in my own issues of the day. Wishing you many blessings on your journey today.
I love this topic… because it is something God has put in my heart since childhood, when I first felt overwhelmed with prayers for a celebrity whose gift touched me, someone I’ve prayed years for all because God put him on my heart. (One thing I always feel drawn to while watching movies is to pray for the actors.) There’s more to this story that I can’t share…but I’ve seen God move so incredibly, even allowing me to touch this person through letters. I once read a beautiful true story of a woman who felt impressed to pray for a name on one of the invoices at her work. She began to write this woman letters of encouragement, tell her she was praying etc. Never had an answer, but kept writing and praying. A bit later, that person’s husband contacted her to let her know how the letters and prayers had changed his wife in her last year of life…that she had come back to the Lord because of them, just before she died. How that story spoke into the prayers I have had for this celebrity and others… and to praying for strangers in malls or wherever. I’ve never walked up to anyone and told them that I was choosing them as “my stranger,” though. (I did blog about one of the times I was praying for someone recently… how I have felt like I did as a child who loved undercover stories, and now pray “undercover blessings” 🙂 in my post, ” Nancy Drew and Me”) I can’t wait to check out your book!
River Jordan says
What an incredible story! I know the letters I get in the mail are so special to me (as are the emails) and I save every one. Thank goodness the husband took time to write you and tell you the rest of the story. Nancy Drew – my favorite as a girl. I’d take a Nancy Drew prayer anyday!
Blessings for 2012 as you continue to pray for strangers!