I received a postcard the other day. I was excited. I thought a friend had visited a cool and exotic place and had thought of me while there.
Then I read it.
My name is Brent* and we don’t know each other. I have been praying for you morning and evening for the last 30 days.
May the peace and goodness of the Lord be with you and all you love.
Brent (Awaken Nashville)
At first, it confused me. Then a strange “invaded” sort of feeling came over me, not unlike I’ve experienced when something of mine has been stolen. That invaded feeling turned into anger.
What the hell?
My husband arrived home about two minutes after my reading the postcard. Still mad, I read the postcard to him as I follow him all the way to the bedroom. He’s not listening. I know it isn’t a good idea to accost him with my personal problems as soon as he arrives home, but I couldn’t help myself. Thankfully, he knows me well, and he always at least pretends to listen.
Although I am well aware that he is not really listening, I continue to talk about how pissed I am about this “junk mail.” I tell him, “I’m going to write this guy a letter and tell him I am on the ‘do not pray for’ list. I DID NOT ASK YOU TO PRAY FOR ME is what I will write in ALL CAPS.”
My husband, eyes glazed over, says “Okay, sure.”
I continue. Why did I get a postcard and not him? He obviously needs more prayer than I do. I’ve, at least, been baptized–twice. He only went to a Catholic school for a couple of years, in potato land (a.k.a. Idaho) of all places. Obviously he’s the one who needs prayers, not me.
He knows when I get mad I want to rip the world apart, but eventually I will calm down enough to see how I’m acting a wee bit crazy. He’s a patient man.
When I calmed down, I realized what I was feeling underneath all the rage was the feeling of being judged. That old, underlying feeling of not being good enough burst through the surface like a volcano and the residual emotional lava made me feel shitty about myself. When I feel this way, I want to retaliate. A man named “Brent” was the easiest and most direct target because he was the one who had sent the postcard. Lucky him.
I had a professor I remember little about, but he said something that stuck with me. He said, “Never assume anything.” It has been over 20 years, and I’ve never forgotten it. I mean, I assume a lot about a lot of things and people because I am human. But, upon receiving the postcard I was painfully reminded again of this sage advice.
The things I hate about others are what I hate about myself. I hated his assuming that I need prayer, meaning, I hated myself for making assumptions about him. It’s not unlike focusing on the speck in one’s eye while ignoring the plank in my own. It forced me to look at my plank, which is never much fun and is often a painful process.
Other sage advice given to me by another teacher: help is always defined by the receiver. Prayer too. The one being prayed for is the one who gets to decide what prayer is needed. I don’t know what one needs unless I ask. If I decide what one needs and/or what I should pray for, I’m not taking my professor’s nor my other teacher’s wise advice. Instead, I’m assuming. I’m judging. I’m focusing on the speck.
I won’t write this guy, but if I did, here is what I might say:
Thank you for your prayers. I often joke I’ll take all the prayers I can get. However, upon receiving your postcard, feelings of frustration and anger bubbled up within me. This anger appeared as it often does when I am feeling as if I am not good enough.
I need to apologize to you because when I read your postcard I assumed you were judging me and my life, hence the anger and frustration. I‘ve learned I cannot control what others may think about me. I mostly gave up the need to control what others think a long time ago. I say mostly because I often forget in moments of shame, embarrassment and in those times of not feeling good enough. Maybe you are judging me. But, you are correct, we don’t know each other. There is no way I would know why you were praying for me. It isn’t fair for me to make such an assumption. It isn’t fair for me to judge you in this way.
The front of the postcard said two things: “Love” and “You Matter to Jesus.”
Do I matter to Jesus?
Do I care?
Yes and no.
I want to matter to everyone, which is, in my view, a normal human desire. Yet, it is my belief that mattering to Jesus or to anyone else isn’t what I want to spend my energy on. I want to use my energy on loving myself and others. I want to love and to not judge or assume. When my energy turns to worrying about others’ life choices or to assuming what other people think of me, I stop the flow of love dead in its tracks. I am working hard to do the other thing on the front of the postcard–LOVE. I’m also working hard on letting go of the need to matter. It’s not easy, but I refuse to give up.
I believe in prayer. I do. So, this isn’t a letter asking you to stop praying for me, although that is what I originally planned. It is a letter to say I’m sorry for judging you without knowing you. Please keep praying for me. However, will you please pray I’ll be able to love unconditionally, even when it’s hard? Will you please pray for grace to be felt and understood among all of us regardless, of who or what we are? Will you please pray that we will all know, feel and fully believe that we are good enough, just as we are, no matter what?
I too hope the peace and goodness of the Lord will also be with you and all you love.
Thanks for reading, sharing and encouraging me along the way.
Here’s to another day like this.
*I’ve changed the name of the person who wrote me the postcard to protect the innocent. It’s hard for me to write the word “innocent” here because I still so badly want to judge this man. I’m obviously not over my “not feeling good enough” even as I write this. I’m working on pulling that dang plank out of my eye. I’ve come to believe it is a life-long process. Thanks for your patience along the way.