My sister recently posted on her Facebook page an encounter she had one day last week, when members of a church youth group stopped by her house seeking donations. After some conversation she made a donation, but before she could close her door, one of the youth offered to add her or someone she knew to their prayer list.
My sister hesitated a moment, then confided that a friend's father recently suffered a stroke and this friend really needed words of encouragement for herself and words of healing for her father. The youth leader stopped and said "Let's pray now." So, my sister went out on the porch and together they prayed for peace and comfort and healing.
What really surprised my sister was that none of the group asked her about her relationship with God, whether she'd been saved, or anything about her denomination. Hearing her need, they responded, with Christ-like compassion.
I'm not sure when I mustered the courage to pray (out loud) with or for another person. It certainly wasn't as a youth. For most of my youth, my prayers were for God's ears only, and for the most part they were diatribes of frustration or pleas for understanding.
I was well into adulthood, when someone I hardly knew asked me to pray for them. "What?" I thought. "Now?" I have no idea what I said, but when I stopped, she said, "Amen," hugged me and went on her way.
What I didn't understand until then was that all of my seemingly one-sided conversations with God had awakened something in me, something that I wasn't aware of until that moment: the courage to be compassionate.
And compassion does take courage. Pity is easy, but compassion requires things of us. Compassion requires us to look past difference, to overcome prejudice, and to open our heart. It requires admitting that I don't always want to be compassionate. More often than not I want to condemn. But living in the place of condemnation means that we cannot attempt the first tasks of faith: to love God and love our neighbor.
To pray for someone takes courage as well. It means being willing to hold that person, without judgment, before God's grace. It means trusting that what God wants for them exceeds our understanding. It means risking that as we pray, God is transforming who we are.