"If you want to know what's right in the world," my friend said, "turn off the local news."
Her point? That sensationalism, ratings wars, and the desire to keep viewers interested often lead to a magnification of the negative. Further, although there's a lot in the world today that needs our prayers, there's also a lot of good. Acts of heroism and kindness and quiet examples of grace that never make headlines.
I try to remind myself of these things when I read the paper. But sometimes – especially with reports of genocide, sectarian clashes, and the like – it's hard not to get swept up in everything that seems wrong.
Recently, I found myself in tears over yet another photograph of an Iraqi woman weeping over a relative who'd been killed in the escalating violence.
Which points to the real issue I've been dealing with in relation to the news: How to help. I wonder: How can I be of comfort? And: How do I know my prayers are doing anything?
When it comes to prayer, my guides are the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy. I've learned from reading both of them that prayer is a powerful force for good, not because it sets about righting the wrongs we see around us, but because it reveals the nature of God and what God is doing for His creation. It shows us that we can acknowledge – and see manifested – the truth promised by Jesus that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10:7).
Prayer reveals that God hasn't forgotten about us, or let His universe descend into chaos. Quite the contrary: God, omnipotent good, constantly loves and cares for us all.
"Prayer cannot change the Science of being," wrote Mrs. Eddy, "but it tends to bring us into harmony with it" (Science and Health, p. 2). And this is where I've tried to start in my prayers for comfort. To come into line with God's view, rather than begging Him to intervene.
After that photograph, though, I was having trouble getting traction. I just wanted to reach out and hug that woman. "God," I prayed, "where's the comfort at a time like this?"
And then I remembered God's comfort for me during a period that seemed lonely and dark.
No, I hadn't lost a relative, but an important and central relationship in my life seemed fraught with problems. Another dear friend had just moved away. And I was working at home for the first time – excited about my new career, but feeling more and more isolated as the days progressed.
I prayed diligently about those feelings. I also prayed to be unselfish – to look for ways to comfort others, rather than focusing on myself. But one day in church I broke down. I felt so sad and alone.
That's when I heard God's message: "Just let Me love you."
This was hugely helpful to me in thinking about comfort for the world because it reminded me that because God loves us infinitely – and is infinite Love itself – we don't have to do anything to feel His embrace. We just feel it. It's natural. No matter how dark a situation seems, divine Love is there, loving us in a way we can understand.
That day in church marked a turning point in my understanding of that fact. And that same day, acquaintances and friends began reaching out in unexpected and wonderful ways. Soon, I felt showered with love. And things in my life that had seemed so troubling began to adjust.
My friend's comment about the local news also reminded me about yielding to divine Love's version of the events around us. And thanks to my own experience, I can say that there's great peace and power in that approach. I'm seeing more and more that, spiritually speaking, we've never for a moment been without comfort. Because divine Love has been with us – with all of us, everywhere – all along.