This post is adapted from an article I wrote in Pray! magazine in May/June 2008. It encouraged me when I re-read it this week—I hope it encourages you, too!
A friend called last week with bad news. She’d been fired from her job after a long series of irreconcilable misunderstandings with her boss. I listened, offering little more than an occasional groan, sigh, or small attempt to comfort. When she finished, I offered to pray for her. But realizing how powerless I was to say or do anything that would address her devastation, I pleaded with the Holy Spirit for help.
I waited a few seconds in silence, and then, with a calm power that wasn’t my own, I began to pray. In a way I can’t explain, I felt as if I were actually bearing some of the weight of my friend’s burdens. Somehow, I was able to put words to her emotions and express her needs to the Lord in ways she told me later made her feel truly understood and cared for. I think we were both a little surprised by how meaningfully the Holy Spirit had helped me to intercede for her deep needs and longings. How did this happen?
Romans 8 says that the Holy Spirit and I have something in common: We both sometimes groan when we pray (vv. 23, 26). I’ve never gone through the kinds of things my friend experienced. But I have experienced misunderstanding, hurt, and discouragement. And, I realized, it was this suffering of mine, though different from hers, that allowed the Holy Spirit to give me the insight and compassion to pray for her. Unless I had endured painful trials of my own, I doubt I would be able to pray for my friend—or anyone else—with much true empathy.
In the past, my own pain sometimes seemed to consume my prayer times. My self-focus frustrated me. I wanted to pray for others, but I was hurting too much to seem to get there. But my experience with my friend helped me to see how that pain and even those self-absorbed prayers are being transformed into something life-giving. My suffering was not wasted; God is using it to help me pray more compassionately for others.
God truly does work all things together for good. He wants to use even our deepest hurts and heartaches to help us to minister, through prayer, to the hurting world around us.