Keep Watch and Pray

Headlines July 2013


There has been a rash of disturbing headlines lately, chronicling events where people have perished due to accidents.  “Forty Still Missing in deadly Canada Oil Train Crash.”  Or:  “2 Dead, 168 Hurt in San Francisco Air Crash.”  Or:  “Arizona Wildfire Kills 19 Firefighters.”  With events such as these, we struggle to know how to respond, and our hearts are heavy for those who died and for the families they left behind.  What can we do to help?

So I asked a Facebook friend this question.  Jesus Benyosef, along with his merry band of friends, is re-enacting the gospel on Facebook, 21st-century style.  Here’s what I posted on Jesus’s wall:

Me:  Jesus, your friends in Prescott, AZ, are grieving, and the rest of us are, too. How can we best help?

Jesus:   keep watch with me, and pray

Me:   It’s sad to say, but it doesn’t seem like that’s enough. ‘Spose that’s just my limited human perspective.

Jesus:   I feel the same way.

Jesus’s response “Keep watch with me and pray” is a good and wise answer, just not a satisfying one.  Humanly, we want to fix problems, or better yet, we want to undo them.  Reverse, replay, and change them so they turn out right, at least to what we perceive is the best outcome.  But fixing and undoing are not what we are called to do in the face of suffering, at least most of the time.  There are instances when we are faced with suffering that we can do something about, and in those situations, it is our responsibility to act within the scope, resources, and abilities we have been given.

Yet much of the suffering we encounter is outside our realm of influence, and for those frustrating, heart-wrenching occasions, Jesus’s words give us guidance and reveal our part in helping those who suffer.  For me, “keeping watch” means to be willing to endure others’ pain and suffering, sitting with them in their mess, even as Jesus sits with us all in our human mess.  Through the incarnation, the Son willingly took on our “mess,” our frail and beautiful human condition, so that we might know the love of God.  When we are willing to vicariously join in the suffering of others (to the extent that our hearts are able), we are participating in this.

The praying part of Jesus’s wise words of counsel to me on Facebook gives us two tasks that we can do.  The first is recognizing when we are unable to fix or undo a situation and that it isn’t our responsibility to fix or undo.  The second task is giving the suffering to Someone who can comfort far beyond our limited means and abilities.  Prayer fulfills our responsibility, but it can seem like it isn’t enough, humanly speaking.  Even my Facebook friend Jesus feels that way.

By sharing others’ suffering and praying, I believe the love and comfort of God is spread among the hurting in ways that are far beyond what you or I could ever imagine, and that includes those of us willing to “keep watch and pray.”  Suffering that we can do nothing about allows us to experience our deepest connection with others as we “keep watch and pray.”

~ by Nan Kuhlman

8 comments so far

  1. Nan, I like how you connect the incarnation with “vicariously joining in the suffering of others.” That makes a lot of sense. And I enjoy Mr. Benyosef too! 🙂

    • Nan Kuhlman on

      John, thanks for your comment. I do think that our role in comforting others emphasizes our mystical connection with each other and with God. Sometimes, though, the mystical-ness just isn’t tangible enough to seem like we’re really doing anything. We need encouragement to look beyond the tangible, IMO.

      • Jeannine on

        Completely agree. Somewhere I read prayer described as “positive spiritual energy.” I’m sure it’s capable of more than we could dream – and active in ways we can’t begin to see. But as usual, as you pointed out, Nan, our eyes are too near sighted.

        I wonder how it all works. I don’t think for a moment that God waits for our prayers and is therefore limited by them, I’m sure that prayer always starts with him and is his way of including us in his work. Amazing.

        It’s typical that we humans wouldn’t think it was enough – maybe it’s because then we can’t claim credit. Interesting also that Jesus said to “watch and pray” – not just pray. To me, watching means being truly present even if it is just mindfully- not just asking a prayer and then forgetting about it!

        Wonderful post as ALWAYS, Nan.

      • Nan Kuhlman on

        Jeannine, thanks for your encouragement and additional thoughts on prayer. I like your take on “watching” as being truly present. I think I’d like to extend that idea even further and suggest that perhaps watching means allowing ourselves to feel a small fraction of the pain/grief the sufferer feels. I think that it is out of that place in our hearts that the most effective prayer comes.

  2. Carrie Smith on

    I look forward to reading what you share, Nan. This is a wonderful perspective to have and I have heard often enough from people that just having someone ‘be there’ – no words, no solutions, no explanations – means more than any eloquent speech or action taken.

    When I don’t know how to help someone, I use Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 1:3-7 as a reminder of Who to turn to: “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

    • Nan Kuhlman on

      Carrie, thanks for the scripture reference. It portrays well the interconnected relationship I see among all people and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even the language (using repetitive words, etc.) creates a verbal picture of how we are all intertwined.

  3. Pastor Rajan babu on

    Hi I am rajanbabu from India Please remember me in your daily prayers We are always praying you and ministry  If possible please visit my town in India Come and share with our ministry  


    • Nan Kuhlman on

      Pastor Rajan Babu, thank you for taking time to comment. I will remember you and your congregation in India in prayer, asking God to show you the depth of his love and acceptance of all humanity. We at Trinity and Humanity greatly appreciate your prayers for us as we try to write meaningful posts that encourage our readers. For further encouragement, you may wish to check out the website, along with the list of links we have beside our posts called “Blogroll.”

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