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The Selfish Work of Prayer

Praying for others helps put my day in order. It means expanding into someone who is generous, concerned, empathetic.

Praying for others is probably the most selfish thing I do all day.

Most mornings I wake up with my head swimming in a self-interested broth. Just a glimpse in the mirror gets me going. How old I am, how little I’ve accomplished, how I really should get a haircut and how I wish we had more money to get a new bathroom mirror if not a new bathroom.

Then there’s a scowl at the refrigerator when I discover that someone’s finished off the juice and I glare at the cabinet shelf that confirms my favorite cereal’s gone. The other morning I found myself irritated with my wife for not relinquishing the front page when I was ready for it.

It’s the Me Show. It’s pretty tiring. And quite frankly I don’t find the newspaper a whole lot of help. Every piece of bad news gets me wondering: Am I going to lose my job too? Are my stocks going to tank? Is Social Security going to go belly up before I have a chance to cash in?

The day would be a disaster if I didn’t put myself in some sort of spiritual order. On the train to work, I read a psalm or two and close my eyes. A name on my prayer list will float through my mind and another and another. “That’s right, her sister has cancer…his mom is dying…he lost his job…they’re losing their house…she’s depressed.”

I’m suddenly part of the real world, one of pain and sorrow and joy, too. Winning-est college basketball coach John Wooden, who died at the age of 99 just a year ago, used to say, “You can’t live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” This praying for others is a start. It means expanding into someone who is generous, concerned, empathetic.

At the office I can easily get sucked into a spiral of self-involvement, deadening the very skills I need in my job. Then I go back through that mental prayer list or acquire a new name. There are always people who need prayer.

Love is what takes us closest to God and praying for others is love at work. I do it thoughtfully, clumsily, absent-mindedly, consciously, caringly and selfishly. I would be unbearable without it. It takes “Me” out of me.                                     

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