The lesson came packaged in a card.
A homemade card, with a colored-pencil picture of a child on the front and these words:
“Sending you mighty prayers.”
Inside, handwritten messages filled both sides of the fold and the back. Fifty-one of them in all. FIFTY-ONE. In pencil, pen, and colored pencil. Names I didn’t recognize—stranger’s names—ended each message, both first and last names.
I nearly wept as I read each word. Yes, each and every word. Not because it was the first card I’d received. Not because it was more sincere or thoughtful or ornate than so many beautiful others that landed in my mailbox this spring.
The card sparked tears simply because of what those fifty-one names represented.
Through an old friend I hadn’t seen in decades, a group of Texas inmates came to hear about my story—our family’s story. For reasons I don’t fully understand, this group of prisoners committed to pray for me. Way back in February, when I still hovered in so many unknowns. And every week for the past several months, they call their outside connection for an update. So they can continue to do battle on my behalf.
And so I opened the mail, took one look at the canvas of names with a Texas return address, and the tears welled. I then walked downstairs to where my husband worked in office, thrust the card forward and choked out a “Here. Look at this.”
He opened the card, looked at all the names, seemed unimpressed. Until he asked, “Who’s this from?” I answered. Then he responded much like me.
For this moment, I’m asking you not to think about where this group of gentlemen live and the muriad of reasons they find themselves there. Instead, I want you to see fifty-one individuals who chose to serve the need of a stranger. It’s powerful, isn’t it? How one unexpected and beautiful sacrifice, offered without expectation of return, can change the pain in another’s circumstance?
The following morning, the morning after I opened my homemade card, I opened my Bible to read. These are the words that wrapped themselves around me when I opened this “second piece of mail”:
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” —Matthew 26:38
I’ve probably read those words more than a hundred times. Jesus said those words, on the dark night of his arrest, crushed as he was by an awareness of the suffering to come. His circumstances incapacitated him with grief. And so he leaned into his friends, expressed his deep need and the means for them to meet it.
Stay here and keep watch with me.
Only they didn’t.
Too often, neither do we.
These six words are the words you and I whisper when we find ourselves arrested by a dark night. When the weight of life crushes, grief incapacitates and the worry chokes, we lean into those closest and hope they will help.
I know this. Because I’ve done it, even if I never said the words.
And yet, as I faced the words in my Bible, I had to face the truth that when another suffers, I too often forget. Instead, I wring my hands and worry. What should I say to the neighbor who lost her daughter? What do I say to the man whose wife ran away? How do I comfort the homeless, jobless, dying, and sick? Afraid to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, too often I walk on. Or fall asleep. Or get busy. Or otherwise leave the grieving in their dark night alone.
Sometimes you do, too. And I get it. I understand why we resort to silence when we don’t know what to say. But what if the needs of those who suffer weren’t that complicated? What if it only takes six words?
Stay here. And keep watch. With me.
It’s what the lonely and dying and grieving need, even if she doesn’t know how to ask.
Stay here. Slow down. Don’t rush past my pain. It’s hard to watch. It’s ugly, I know. But I need presence. This requires more than a drive-by, more than a quick wave and a “You’re in my prayers!” Stay here, please? There is something rare and sacred about exposed and vulnerable places. Something garden-like, maybe? New life could happen, for both me and you. If you’ll just stay a while.
Keep watch. Will you look out for me? I need you to be my eyes, to stay awake, search out danger, be ready to fight for life. I can’t see through my tears. As much as I love you, I don’t need your 3-step-plans or personal horror stories. But I do need to know you have my back, and that when I’m about to collapse, you’ll catch my fall. I’m all out of strength. Can you lend some of yours?
With me. Is there anything more beautiful to the sick and wounded and grieving than nearness? I can endure any suffering as long as I know I’m not alone. But being “with” is more than passing through a high-traffic intersection. Sit with me, even if I can’t give anything in return. I need more than your voice over the phone and your words over a message. Come close enough to touch. It’s enough.
Stay here. Keep Watch. With me.
It’s what grief needs. And, whether you and I know it or not, it’s what we need as well.
To the group of TX prayer warriors who prayed tirelessly for me and our family, I never said those six words, and yet you lived out their answer beautifully. Thank you.
Because of you, I’m learning to do the same.
Who has kept watch with you during a dark night? And who needs you to do the same?