A friend of mine from long ago told me something I'll never forget. She was speaking of the years she spent in solitary confinement because of mental illness.
While the staff was kind, she was without any other contact; none of her friends or family knew what she was going through. She attributes her release (and subsequent years of a productive, satisfying life) to one ray of hope: She knew the members of her church were praying for her because, as a church family, they prayed for one another's strength, peace, and safety.
It was one of those experiences that makes me continue to take my own prayers seriously.
In this age of instant messaging, ready cellphone access, and international calling, it can be a shock to realize that someone we love is suddenly unreachable, whether there is known or unknown danger.
I felt that when my dad was in Vietnam. I felt it when my grandmother passed on when I was overseas. I can only imagine what it's like for a family when a loved one is kidnapped or is missing because of a weather disaster.
The two things that have kept my prayer active, useful, and comforting are these points:
• That the individual is worthy of safety.
• That the individual has not lost his or her authority.
The first point may seem obvious. The second one may be harder to understand.
The personal perspective that makes us know what we cherish about a loved one's goodness points us to a more universal truth: The individual is essential in God's creation. At this time of racial and sectarian hatred resulting in the deaths of millions in Africa and thousands in the Middle East, there's a danger of becoming numb to the value of one human life.
But because each of us is created for the glory of God's goodness, each of us exists, in one sense, to make God better known. Our love reflects the divine Love, the Father-Mother of all life. Our intelligence hints at the omniscient Mind. Even the uniqueness of individuality that carves the channel of our life purpose points to the one infinite Being, divine Soul, God.
The hardest part of praying for someone when you can't make contact is that the absence tempts you to get sucked into fear. And instead of praying, you end up worrying.
The thing that has rescued me is the thought that in defending someone's right to live, based on their relationship to God, we are defending their God-given authority.
It may seem startling to the human mind to admit the authority of someone held captive, yet that is a key to persistent prayer for others. To acknowledge someone as the child of God is to keep your thought of them in reference to God's provision and power. It means they respond to a power greater than human circumstance.
In Mary Baker Eddy's writings about Christian Science she spoke of God's power to preserve what God creates: "The divine Mind that made man maintains His own image and likeness" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 151).
The Bible tells of the prophet Jeremiah, who prayed for his people captive in Babylon. His words speak of the relationship of God with His creation and the care that upholds and supports it: "Through the Lord's mercies, we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is God's faithfulness.... To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth, To turn aside the justice due a man before the face of the Most High, or subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve" (Lam. 3:22, 23, 34, 35, New King James Version).
At the times when our loved ones most need our support and we have the fewest reassurances of their safety, we can honor God's power that governs His creation and neutralizes the obstacles to their freedom.