Concluding remarks by President Jimmy Carter at 1980 Prayer Breakfast
"The Bible says even the worst sinners love and pray for their friends, the ones who love them. And sometimes we don't go that one more step forward in growth, not on a single cataclysmic, transforming experience, but daily, and count those against whom we are alienated. At least every day, list them by name, and say, 'God, I pray for that person or those people.'
Every day, I pray for the Ayatollah Khomeini. Every day I pray for the kidnappers who hold our innocent Americans. And every day, of course, I pray for those who are held hostages as innocents. It's not easy to do this, and I have to force myself sometimes to include someone on my list, because I don't want to acknowledge that that person might be worthy of my love. And the most difficult thing of all, I think, is to go one step even further than that and thank God for our own difficulties, our own disappointments, our own failures, our own challenges, our own tests.
But this is what I would like to leave with you. To set a time in each day to list all of the things that you consider to be most difficult, most embarrassing, the worst challenge to your own happiness, and not only ask God to alleviate it but preferably thank God for it. It might sound strange, but I guarantee you it works.
And you might say, 'Why in the world should I ask God for thanks — give thanks, for something that seems to me so bad or so damaging?' Well, growth in a person's life, growth for a nation, growth spiritually, all depend on our relationship with God. And the basis for that growth is an understanding of God's purpose, and a sharing of difficult responsibilities with God through prayer."
Text taken from Gregory Korte, "How presidents pray: The prayer breakfast from Eisenhower to Obama," USA Today, Feb 4, 2016.
Praying for our enemies and those we have difficulty with is at the heart of staying connected to God within and outside of us. In Raymond Carver’s award winning short story, “A Small Good Thing,” a bereaving couple whose son has just been killed and a baker who had made a birthday cake for their son which they never picked up sit down over coffee and hot cinnamon rolls to share their suffering. This has been my experience of best being able to pray and talk and be reconciled with those who have harmed me. I listen to their story and try to share some of my story with them usually over a meal if possible. Carter’s enemies are not at the breakfast, but he brings them to the breakfast in prayer. This is a start. We move from victim to survivor. We are healed by feeling a connection to the pain each of us has known, realizing we are not alone in our suffering.
If you are having trouble with this idea, think about starting small. You start by connecting with those with whom you have difficulty that you may have the best chance of finding a healing relationship with. Start with members of your church that you may find difficult to work with. Now certainly there may not be people in your congregation with whom you have difficulty getting along. But just in case, try this. Sit down just the two of you, preferably over a meal and tell your story and listen to the other person’s story just like the couple and the baker in Carver’s story. Share a meal together, pray for presence of Spirit. I did forget to tell you that the presence of the Spirit is the only way you can be reconciled, for finding a healing relationship is not yet a major part of our human DNA.
Jesus tells us, do not fight fire with fire. Fight fire with water, living water.6 Evil is overcome with good, not with a stronger version of evil. Jesus calls us to break the cycle of evil and suffering. Let it stop with us. Break the cycle with the person sitting three pews ahead of you. Break the cycle with your estranged brother or sister. Break the cycle with your spouse or child. Break the cycle with the person you work with or your next-door neighbor. With God’s help, we can do it. Christians are called to be Christ-like, to counter evil with good, to allow the power of Christ, the Spirit to live within and through us out to others. Is there any hope for us? No one can be Christ-like by sheer will power or discipline. Christ, the Spirit has to do it within us. Pray for this. Put yourself in the place where the Spirit can lead you using the spiritual disciplines that are best working for you at this time.
Excerpted from a sermon given Epiphany 7A Matthew 5:38-48 Holy Spirit, Gulf Shores, February 19, 2016 Jesus calls an audible
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