When someone you care about has a child who is acutely or chronically ill, praying for them involves caring actions or “living prayers” as well as words offered in prayer.  Here are some guidelines and tips.

How to do this prayer practice

1. Pray with others about the situation first.

In the Scriptures, a man named Job lost everything he had and then became tormented by a horrible disease.   The Bible says that when three of his friends heard about his suffering, they set out to comfort him.  (see Job 2:11-12.)

This point is very important for our praying for those with children who are acutely or chronically ill.  Notice that these friends called on each other. They built a support system to support their friend Job. Perhaps they prayed together (they came together in agreement).   Notice that none of them went at this task alone.  Each friend came together and together they brought their concern for Job and Job’s family to each other.  We can do the same today in prayer.

2.  Ask God what you should do.

It is during prayer times with concerned friends that we might discern specific  “go and comfort ” directions from God.

3.  Focus on “comfort.”

Too often when we get a feeling that God wants us to go and comfort someone we think we are being sent to fix the problem.   Remember, God isn’t sending us to “save them” or even to offer good advice.  We are being sent to comfort.

Unfortunately, Job’s friends who started out with such good intentions later lost their focus and tried to fix Job.   They ended up arguing about theology with Job which only made things worse and added to his sufferings.

4.  Ask God to prepare you and strengthen you for what you might see.

When the friends saw Job from a distance, they could hardly recognize him.  It’s possible that when Job’s friends “began weeping aloud” when they saw him, most likely they were not prepared for what they saw. What we learn here is that we may need to be prepared for a shock.  Illness and the treatments we use to cure/treat some illnesses can look scary. Something as simple as a face lift can leave the person looking bruised and beaten for weeks before the healing and youthful appearance occurs.  We cannot comfort others if we are too busy trying to overcome the shock of what we see.

Today, people differ greatly on whether they respond well to visitors openly expressing emotion.  Ask God to keep you from becoming visibly emotional if it will not be helpful to the person you want to comfort.

5.  Empathize.

In the tradition of Job’s day when one was faced with an illness that placed one outside the fellowship of the Temple, (such as illnesses like leprosy, an issue with blood, or open sores) it was common spiritual protocol to rent your cloths, cry out loud to the Lord, apply ashes and ware sack cloth to call unto God for mercy.   For a “clean” or healthy person to willingly fast, rent their cloths, wear sack cloth and apply ashes to their head is an act of Holy sacrifice and prayer.   Although today we don’t do visible acts of identification with those who suffer, coming together with those of our faith community to pray for our loved ones is an act of spiritual identification with those who suffer.

6.  Bring the healing presence of “living prayers.”

When Job’s friends got over their shock, they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

The compassion we offer our friends as we “stand with them” is the essence of our “living prayer” for the children of our loved ones.  In this way, our prayers are “spoken” through our acts of compassion rather than a formally worded traditional prayer.  Perhaps our prayer is a quiet visit, holding the hand of  the loved one while they sleep off the effects of the medication.  It may be our prayer is the act of
doing our friend’s small but necessary chores so they can sit and be with their child. Whatever our acts of compassion may be, they are living prayers.

My personal experiences and tips:

In my experience as a Pastor and as a Chaplain for a surgical NICU at a children’s hospital, I have seen that” living prayers” are a unique as the children we love and pray for.   One mother has twins, one twin was able to come home, over two hours away  from the hospital.  The other twin needed to remain hospitalized for about six to eight more weeks. A friend arranged for  this Mom to stay with her, in town, until the twin could come home.

Another family experienced living prayers when neighbors took on providing food for the family, driving the other children to soccer, school, providing play dates, food, and even weekly grocery shopping while their oldest child received chemotherapy.  Other ideas include providing meals through e-meals sign ups, updating care-bridge web site, sending cards of encouragement, providing “change” for snacks and “fast food” etc.

When my own child was facing surgery, my wonderful mother-in-law showed up everyday at lunch time, took me out to eat, and provided me with adult conversation that had nothing to do with the hospital.  Another mother experienced living prayers when a church member arrived,  hot home cooked meal in hand, picked up the younger children, took them home, provided for their needs, put them to sleep in their own beds, all so Mom could stay longer at the hospital with her child.

The Biblical origins and traditional roots of this method of prayer:

Jesus himself, in his time of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, asked his disciples to stay nearby him and pray with Him as he suffered.  See Mark 14:32-34