This Lent, I resumed my favorite Lenten prayer tradition, praying for a different person, couple, or family each of the forty days, offering all of my prayers, petitions, frustrations, joys, and sufferings that day for their intentions.
It was a particularly amazing experience for me this year. Before the Lenten season, I had become unusually fixated on the fact that the crosses in my life seemed to be so small lately compared to the challenges so many of my acquaintances, friends, and family were facing—dreaded illnesses, marital problems, struggles with fertility, death of loved ones, and so on. Yet here I was, cozy, at peace, and joyful with my beautiful little family and happy life. I started to worry that it was just a matter of time before everything in my own life spiraled out of my control, before it was my turn to experience deep suffering. I thought my crosses were just too small, and that God, in order to make me a saint, was going to have to up the ante, really make me learn what carrying a heavy burden was like. Though I knew that this is not how God works, I let my irrational fears plague my mood for days and weeks.
Then God did something. Over forty days, He showed me that I was looking at the situation all wrong. I was looking at crosses in terms of “mine” and “theirs,” when I should have been looking at them as “ours.” The petitions that poured in from friends and relatives over six weeks stirred in my heart and dominated my thoughts and prayers each day, bringing me to a better understanding of how crosses are meant to be carried—together.
How easy it is for me to get caught up in my own little world sometimes, focusing on my crosses, however big or small I think they are, and not realizing that my neighbor’s cross is my cross and that I am meant to help in carrying it. Over forty spiritually challenging and fruitful days, I was able to make small sacrifices daily for others and their needs. Many days, the Holy Spirit would coordinate the timing so perfectly, and the person I was devoting my prayers to that day would even tell me how that moment or day or week was when they were needing prayers the most. As the hours passed by each day, I would constantly reflect and petition God for that person or family, and the craziest part was that, at moments, I could actually tangibly feel the weight of their cross. In those same moments, I felt immeasurably blessed by them for giving me the opportunity to help them carry it.
Now that Lent is coming to an end, I realize that this prayer practice cannot. It has changed me. It has made me more acutely aware of my connection to others as part of the Body of Christ. God calls us to be there for one another, but so often we are not. We may fail to pray for others when we say we will, or we are so focused on our own prayer intentions that we act as if we don’t have time for anyone else’s. But when that happens, we miss out on this great treasure of sharing the weight of our burdens and lightening each other’s loads.
Here’s how you can participate in your own cross-sharing mission:
- When a person you know pops into your head for whatever reason, reach out to them, and ask them how you can pray for them that day.
- If you have a friend or relative asking you for prayers for some intention, think of how you can relieve some of their burden, not only through your prayers, but also through an act of service—gifting them with a meal, an inspirational book, a cup of coffee and a listening ear, a hug, a thoughtful card.
- Challenge yourself to offer not only your vocal prayers, but also your daily sufferings, frustrations, accomplishments, and joys for another. For example, when you start to get annoyed as you are stuck in traffic, offer your frustration for your special prayer recipient. The graces of that annoyance offered up will bless them in ways you may never see. No negative or positive feeling or experience, when offered for another, is ever wasted. God is meticulous in applying the fruits of our prayer to those in need.
From now on, I plan on being more conscious of helping others carry their crosses, not just through prayer (though that will be primary), but also through acts of service— physically, charitably helping others in small ways that make a big difference. When I thought my crosses were too small, God did this—shaking up my spiritual life and giving me bigger crosses to help carry—and for this, I am inexplicably grateful.