But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
I've had a few opportunities to learn from strong and amazing women this past month (actually, I get to learn from strong and amazing women daily, but that's a different story). Several weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a special lecture here at the University of Delaware to hear the stories of Dr. Loretta Prater and Ms. Sybrina Fulton, the mothers of Leslie Prater and Trayvon Martin. Both of their sons were killed unjustly by excessive police force. The conversation focused primarily around compassionately understanding the experiences of these black mothers and the need for implementing just systems that protect life.
It was heartbreaking, infuriating, and inspiring. Yet I was struck how from the stage, when asked about how she handles this ongoing loss and what advice she can give others, Dr. Prater began with a comment that you don't hear very often in a university lecture. "You have to pray," she calmly stated. She shared that even when we do everything right, we can't always control what happens, and she would not know what to do if she didn't pray all the time. Praying for change in systems, for change in hearts, for strength to make it through the next few moments. It was completely appropriate sharing in an interview format, but it left the crowd quieted. This was an academic professional who has dedicated her life to working for justice. And the first thing she mentions is prayer.
I'm sure many expected to hear the opposite. "More change, less prayers!" But Dr. Prater humbly refused to place these two options in opposition to each other. And let me tell you, after seeing the spirit in that woman, all I wanted to do afterwards was sit in her living room chair with a cup of tea and let her wisdom just soak in. Prater for president?
Then, just this past week, I was talking with one of you dear ones in our community, who teaches. And we spoke about managing the complex challenges of teaching in schools. And as we talked about how overwhelming it all is, you told me, "You just have to pray. All day long. In the car, in between classes, at lunch. You just pray all the time, that God is with you and helps you. You pray for the kids, their families. You just have to pray, all the time."
That sort of faithfulness, trust, and desperation moves me.
In this lenten season, I am being drawn toward the centrality of prayer in those who are truly grounded in living out God's kingdom in real ways.
Both of these strong women are committed to transforming our society for the better. With their lives, they are trying to make our world more whole, more beautiful, and more like Jesus imagined it. Prayer is not separate from the real work. It's the starting point to keep our souls intact as we do it.
We walk through lent imagining Jesus in the desert, praying unceasingly, day after day. Far from passive, he would emerge ready to do the work he was called to do. And in just a week, we'll remember Jesus walking into the garden at nightfall, to wrestle in prayer. He would emerge, ready to absorb all the ugliness and violence and corruptive power that this world had to offer. He would defeat it with love and reveal a better way forward.
So in this week, as we continue to long for resurrection but maybe aren't seeing it so much... I want to encourage you to learn from Jesus and the strong women who have been teaching me lately.
In our anger, may we always ask God for love.
In our sorrow, may we always ask God for comfort.
In our confusion, may we always ask God for wisdom.
In our exhaustion, may we always ask God for strength.
In a culture of death, may we always ask God to bring life.
In the windy and stormy spring, may we always cling tightly to the vine.
In our living, our loving, and our working for good, may we always be grounded on Jesus.
And may unceasing prayer lead us to courage, conviction, mercy, and love.
As I envision Jesus' heart heavy with the realities of a broken world, yet still believing that the kingdom was unfolding, I am drawn to lean in close to the Spirit, for I feel no other option. I want to encourage you to join me. So in a tone without force, without guilt, without inaction, and without passivity, I invite you to bring everything to Jesus, today, all day long. Let your living flow from there. Full of love, I implore you: We have to pray.
Jesus, let this moment be a starting point for a day of complete connection with you, leading me to the fullest expression of working for good.