The inspiration for the resolution and the conditions it began with can be found at the website, PrayingforStrangers.com and of course in the book. The most important thing was that everyday I would pray for a different stranger. Someone I passed in the grocery aisle, the bank, or post office. The sidewalk or a restaurant or in the park. It didn’t matter where but just someone different everyday. Someone who might stand out to me in a simple way.
At first my prayers were meant to be silent. Something I kept completely to myself without ever sharing with the person that I was praying for them. But a few weeks into that resolution in 2009, something moved me to speak to a woman in a bus station, to tell her she was my stranger and that I would be praying for her that night before I went to sleep. Her response changed my life forever. She literally responded that she had just been asking God that morning if there was anyone in the whole world that was praying for her. We were both shocked at that moment. She went on and caught the bus home to Kentucky. I went on to pray for strangers. About three or four times a week I’d tell them. The responses from these people are more surprising than you could imagine. Over and over again I would hear, “Funny you choose me today because . . . ” and then the person would continue their story of what was happening on that day or in their lives.
“I am a pastor and I recently read Praying for Strangers. I challenged my church to pray for one stranger a day in 2012. I’ve been doing it too, of course.”
Some of those stories are documented in the book that I never meant to write. After all, I’m a fiction writer. Don’t get me wrong, I strive to communicate eternal truths in my novels but they are through metaphor, through allegory, and a wide array of characters and places. So telling the truth exactly as it happened was difficult for me. It was personal and revealing. It wasn’t a story I wanted to share. But over and over again I’d come home and ask my husband, “Do you want to hear my stranger story?” And over and over again he would ask me if I was writing these stories down. “No,” I’d reply, “I’m working on my new novel,” which was true. The year progressed that way with me ‘journalling’ stories of the people I had met and the encounters we had shared but my ‘real’ writing time was saved for the novel in progress.
“You have changed my life.. I am doing that too… my stranger for today? the receptionist at my eye MD office that looked like she wasn’t having a good day… but when I told her she was my stranger… her faced changed.”
Somewhere along the way that changed. I realized what I was dealing with, the journey I was walking out was larger than the plan I had for my life. That there was something phenomenal happening. I discovered that prayers were thirsty for a touch even from someone they didn’t know. And that on any given day the people around me were hurting while wearing a mask full of smiles. That on each day people were walking through life pretending that everything was okay because they didn’t know what else to do. But when a prayer stepped up to say,
“Today you are my special stranger and tonight I’ll be remembering you in my prayers. I’ll be praying blessings for your life and those you love” — it shook their world.
Caused them to stop in their tracks and become real. Pretenses fell to the wayside. And so did mine.
I’m an introverted writer. I’m very good at putting my blinders on and walking though my days focused on what I need to do and most of the time – what isn’t getting done because I’m always running behind. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always cared about children, the homeless, the elderly, the lost, the weak and so on. I care. But caring from a distance for a large group of people or a worthy cause is different than reaching out everyday to a single human being and becoming part of their story. It takes more time, it involves a greater risk, and if I dare to say, in so many ways in produces a great compassion.
At the end of my 2009 resolution I felt I had checked that box.
I had prayed for strangers everyday in spite of when I didn’t feel like it. On days I didn’t leave home I prayed for someone on the news, a story in a magazine, or a voice on the radio. I prayed my way through thick and thin. On days I felt like I needed prayer much more than anyone I might be praying for. And the year became another year as 2010 rolled over. There I was with a decision lying before me as I walked through stores, took in people, really beheld them. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop this thing.
That one year of a resolution had indeed rolled into something larger. I had so many experiences of how speaking to people and telling them they were my special stranger had positively affected people that I couldn’t rob them of that now. I also couldn’t rob myself of the experience. What I had learned and what is portrayed in Praying for Strangers is how that resolution affected me. How it changed me. Trust me, you can’t pray for over 300, 600, 800 strangers and not be changed. If I was a compassionate woman before, I’m so much more so now. If I was judgmental before, now – not so much.
And I’ve begun to see how we all fit together in this life. How very much we need each other. In the simplest and surprising ways. And how sometimes the mission field we’ve long to visit or to serve in is the mission field just out our own front doors.
The new year rolled over again with the momentous 2012 dawning. Since the publication of Praying for Strangers others have gone out into their neighborhoods, their stores, their cities and begun to pray for strangers. Entire churches of all denominations have adopted this resolution in cities across the nation.
There has been such an interest in making a difference in this world that people requested additional information of ways that they might begin to step out and take this journey. In response to those requests there are now Twelve Keys in Twelve Weeks to Praying for Strangers posted on the website including journal reflection questions and small group discussion points. The book club readers guide may be found here.
“My stranger today is named Brenda from the store. She has Lupus which was acting up this week. Praying for her today. Praying for relief from pain.”
What began as a book that I never wanted to write has become a lifestyle not only for me but now for thousands of others. I’ve included some of their comments because they surprise me continually. They move me and keep me looking outward instead crumbling inside myself on any given day when the battle before me seems greater than my strength to overcome it. When I am sad, weary, disheartened – for whatever human reason I juggle on any given day – I reach out to a stranger who may only whisper a quick, “Thank you,” as I go on and it makes a difference. My burden lifts. My soul shifts. And I don’t feel so alone.
“I recently finished your book, “Praying for Strangers” and I have not been the same since. It really confirmed something in my spirit that I’ve known for a long time. There are no chance meetings, no interaction with another that is too small to make a big difference. God is so good.”
Last night my stranger was a little girl that will never know me. She was about seven years old and wearing a frog hat with green sneakers. I think she must like frogs. I said a very silent but heartfelt prayer for that little girl’s destiny. For her protection and joy, for her whole long life ahead of her. Today I still smile when I think of her. And the most bizarre thing to me is that I will never forget her. These strangers take up special residence in my life, they now have their own place. On any given day I remember any one of them and again, pray for goodness in their life. It’s only a pause, a passing prayer, a compassionate moment but something in my heart of hearts says it matters. A lot.
As this new year takes shape and form for you, as you step into known routines and unknown days, I would encourage you to consider as so many people have now, embracing this one tiny thing that you can do. To pray for a stranger. It may make more of difference in their life than you will ever know. I have no doubt whatsoever that it will make a difference in yours.
About the Author: River Jordan is a critically acclaimed novelist. Praying for Strangers is her first published work of non-fiction. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Owen Hicks, where she produces and hosts the weekly radio program Clearstory. She writes a regular blog for Psychology Today titled, Praying for Strangers. The book was just featured in Guideposts magazine for January 2012 as “A New Way to Pray”. Since 2009 she has prayed for a multitude of strangers and continues on that journey.Leave a Comment