"Please pray for me." "We are praying for you." "Let me pray about that." "You are in our prayers."
These and others like them are common statements -- full of grace, mercy and compassion -- that are frequently shared among us. They transcend spiritual and religious orientation, cultural context and social setting. Such phrases are shared face to face, in cards and letters, and in the past decade or so through extensive social media.
Most faith traditions and scriptures encourage or even command praying for others.
Often, these words are backed up by real action -- the "pray-er" truly spends time and intention on behalf of the "pray-ee" -- entering a prayer closet, as it were, to offer heart-felt soulful intercession, supplication, thanksgiving regarding another person or situation. And other times they seem more like a social nicety and little else, not unlike greeting someone with, "How are you?" When spoken, it seems like a polite thing to say, but not much happens after that.
And so we pray for others and for ourselves. We pray for painful situations, for suffering and distress, for wisdom and guidance, for oppression and justice, for peace and understanding -- among countless other vital matters.
I would like to take it a step further, from praying about our pain to praying our pain. It is an important distinction in my experience, and maybe yours.
For example, notice the difference in these two Psalmist prayers: "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me," (Psalm 23:4,NRSV) and "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" (Psalm 22:1, NRSV).
Both are classic, profound prayers. The former is praying about God's role in coping with the dark experiences of life, and the latter is praying the pain, the dark pain of abandonment.
Perhaps another comparison can be made between knowing the Shepherd's Psalm (23) and knowing the Shepherd.
The old preacher from my youth introduced every pastoral prayer with the reminder, "Prayer is the practice of honesty."