“Forgive me, Lord, I have never prayed for them.”
This confession occurred at 2 a.m. one night after some loud commotion outside my window jolted me awake. Wakening to tires screeching, people screaming, sub-woofers thumping and mufflers exploding had become a nightly thing — an annoying, maddening thing. What was it this time — a smashed beer bottle on our fence, the police responding to loud partiers, or fire trucks responding to another arson call? When my family and I moved to a house a few blocks from Christ Kitchen, neighbors assured us that the ex-cop across the street would be over in seconds, gun drawn, if the situation warranted. Had my cop-neighbor heard tonight’s turmoil? I hoped he was buckling his holster.
These weird, groggy thoughts gave way to a sick panic that sent me flying out of bed. Was my 19-year-old daughter home yet? Racing down the hall I was instantly mad at her for the look she’d given me that afternoon when I showed her how to put car keys between her fingers to walk from her car to the back door. She’d even rolled her eyes as I insisted this very weapon could likely save her life. Finding her sweet face soundly sleeping in her room only slightly calmed my racing heart. I totally get the thing about the mother grizzly bear clawing the hiker. Pity the person who got in this sleep-deprived, paranoid, adrenalin-laced mother’s path tonight. I know those mama grizzlies go to bed grumbling about crazy people who disturb them.
Crawling back into bed next to my slightly-snoring, ear-plugged husband, I thought the crisis was over. Everybody was safely tucked into bed. I sighed a great, impervious thanks that my family was safe.
And then God got to work.
Recent neighborhood scenes bombarded my prayers: the inebriated woman who needed 50 cents for the laundromat dryer; the young mom screaming at her son as she yanked him off his tricycle; the endless, dull-eyed drivers heading down our alley to the meth dealer’s house; the 13-year old girl who asked my husband for cigarettes; the two very loaded men on our front porch wondering if our windows needed washing at 10 p.m.?
Panic returned. “Who,” God seemed to be asking my dull, shallow heart, “is praying for these families, these 19-year olds, these children who are not safely tucked in their beds? You’re grateful for your family’s safety,” he went on, “but who cares about these others roaming the streets? Do you know if they even have a home, these night owls who dare to interrupt your sleep?” He was on a roll.
“Come on, God,” I insisted, “you’ve got to admit that teaching someone to drive a stick shift at 3 a.m. below my window is a teeny weenie bit rude.”
“Are you praying for them?” he asked, paying no attention to my efforts to justify my irritation. “Have you ever prayed for them?” he demanded. Sheepishly, I had to admit that I can barely tolerate loud nightlife clamoring below my window, let alone pray for the carousers. I knew now that I’d never get back to sleep.
I take great comfort knowing the church prays for the downtrodden and dispossessed, that others join me in praying for this poor, hurting world. So many faithful supporters regularly lift up our ministries and the women we serve. But in the wee hours of this sleepless night, a horrifying reality hit me — I haven’t prayed for my neighbors whose homes I drive past every day. I might study the statistical analysis of neighborhood crime and poverty, but I’d never been awoken by statistics. I teach classes on urban ministry, but classes don’t disturbed my sleep. My head accepts this violence as real and in need of help, but I resist it invading my life, my sleep.
And so, I had to confess. Forgive me Lord, I have never prayed for them. Forgive me. I am such a sinner.
Jan Martinez writes about poverty issues in the area.