May 10, 2011

Praying for Tomorrow

Each Monday morning at 11:00, SYM begins its ministry week with a prayer concert. It's a very old concept of praying together by adding your voices together on a series of ideas. A leader guides with ideas like "Go is... what?" And prayer participants answer back (for example), "God is love," "God is powerful," "God is creator," "God is patient," and "God is judge." The leader repeats each answer so that it can be thought and prayed by each participant and repeats the question to call for another answer. 

Street youth are not universally happy with God, so answers to the question "God is... what?" reflect that. Their answer frequently reflect things like "confusing," "elusive," "mean," "distant." I repeat them, turning them just a little... like, "God seems confusing sometimes." "God can be elusive sometimes." And so on.

We progress from a question like "God is... what?" to "I'm thankful for... what?" "What's going on with me is... what?" "I admit... what?" and "I want God to act in my life to... what?" Street youth are very open in our prayer times. Their voices reflect their situation.

"I'm thankful for... what?" usually elicits responses like "Waking up today," "Being alive," "Friends," and so on. However, they are honest in their answers to this question, too. More than once, someone adds, "Not me. I'm not thankful for waking up today. I feel terrible." I repeat their statement with a little twist: "Sometimes we're not thankful for waking up today. Today can seem like just too much to handle."

As we move through the questions, we arrive at the petition phase, where we ask God to act in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the community around us. The prayers are personal, and often include prayers of recovery from addiction, for motivation, for jobs, and for healing and health. They include prayers for friends, mothers, fathers, and family. But not all the prayers are happy. Some are angry.

And sometimes one of the youth will pray "I don't want to wake up tomorrow." I call this the suicide prayer. I repeat the prayer reluctantly, telling them that they are not alone; others have prayed that same prayer in this room. And I tell them that I'm not fond of the prayer, and I repeat it again with a twist, "God, we ask you to act in our life to let us wake up different tomorrow. We don't feel like we can take another day like today. Make tomorrow different. Give up hope. Send us a friend. Send us support. Change something." Often the youth will support one another, sharing how they, too, have felt this way. How things can change.

As a final activity, I usually ask the street youth to "get in an imaginary time machine and go five or ten years into the future. God has acted in your life. What are you thanking God for?" It's sometimes hard for them to stretch their imaginations that far into the future when they are spending so much time and energy on their needs for the next few hours. But they always begin to engage and share wonderful answers: "That I have met someone special and we have a family," "That I have a job and a house and a car," or "That I am alive and healthy," "That I've been clean and sober for 5 years."  Even a youth who earlier prays the suicide prayer often provides an answer like "If I could be happy and alive, that would truly be a miracle. I would thank God for that."

Praying for tomorrow takes real courage. Whether they believe strongly in God, weakly, or not at all, street youth often find strength in praying for tomorrow and asking God to act in their life. Even those deeply depressed are lifted by such prayer. It's such a privilege to pray with them.

-- Terry

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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