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It began innocently enough. One Sunday morning when I was in my early twenties I was reading a magazine account of a woman whose worst nightmare had come true: the small plane she was traveling in, along with her father and four other passengers, crashed in tropical, shark-infested waters. Separated from her father and the others, madly treading water in the treacherous ocean, she did something she'd never done before--she prayed. She prayed to God to help her have the strength to tread water for ten minutes, just ten minutes. And miraculously she was given the strength to keep from drowning for ten minutes. Then she prayed for another ten minutes. And she got that, too. Ten minutes by ten minutes she made it unharmed through the night one prayer at a time until she was returned safely to shore where she was reunited with her father.
For the life of me, I could not put the magazine down. I sat hypnotized by the photographs of this woman and her father. Every single little prayer she prayed was answered, instantly. She was an ordinary woman just like me, so if she could pray and get help immediately, why couldn't I?
By the time I finished reading the article the possibility of answered prayer in my life seemed within reach. With just the belief in the possibility, the door that I'd closed to God years before opened. My life changed in that instant, but I didn't know it yet: I received my first answer to a prayer I did not even know I had.
Years later I would call this moment by its real name: my spiritual awakening. And it was not even my own prayer that led to my awakening--it was the prayer of the woman from the newspaper story. Nor was it my God I was praying to; she was praying to hers. I had piggybacked on the prayers of a complete stranger. Years later I would come to understand that every prayer--long or short, silent or aloud, angry or grateful, tearful or fearful--is answered through you when you are open to receive; whether it is piggybacked or stolen or counterfeit doesn't make a difference.
Prayer became a lifeline to the Divine for me, and prayer by prayer I followed in the footsteps of my heroine, one bite-size prayer at a time, until I stumbled upon the hidden truth about prayer: when we are open to receive, every prayer is answered.
So day after day I earnestly prayed the way my heroine did until one morning I hit an invisible ceiling--the more I prayed, it seemed, the less passion I experienced. I no longer looked forward to praying. I continued to speak the words correctly but they came out sounding mechanical. I wanted to feel more but I didn't. Something was missing but I didn't know what it was.
A year went by before I learned that it wasn't something that was missing but someone. The someone turned out to be my first Prayer Partner, Peter, who introduced me to a whole new way of praying, which changed everything.
A New Way to Pray
As it turns out, this "new" way of praying was not new at all. "If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:19-20 NKJV). Jesus introduced the idea of Prayer Partnering over two thousand years ago. Every spiritual tradition has a form of praying in unison--some that predate Christianity--as a method that multiplies both the power of your prayer and its results. I didn't know that then. All I knew was that praying with someone else breathed life into my prayers in a way that nothing else had.
Suddenly I looked forward to my prayer time with my partner. It was fun and alive and utterly spontaneous. Whenever I prayed alone, I never laughed or got swept away in the excitement of connecting with the Divine. Now I was praying with fervor as I prayed with and for my partner, and he with and for me.
What to Expect from This Book
Prayer Partners is a simple book about a profound spiritual technique. It is so easy that you could begin using this technique tomorrow morning and begin reaping the benefits right away. We're not inventing anything new. We're applying what Jesus taught and unleashing the power of his teaching in our own prayer lives.
Prayer Partnering changed my life forever, and it changed the life of my co-author, Joel, too. We wrote this book because we know that Prayer Partnering can do the same for you, and more.
Why I Started Praying with a Partner
I'd like to report that my introduction to Prayer Partnering came after a gentle nudge from the heavens, a sweet dream from which I awoke and knew it was time for me to partner with another good soul in prayer. But it didn't happen that way. No change in my life has ever happened with a soft touch.
It is written that the "fates lead those who will, and those who won't they drag." That's me. I have to be beat up a bit to get the message that it's time to change. Then I'm all ears.
Never was that more true than when I was twenty-four years old and bought a three-story house with the love of my life. It was located in a bad neighborhood that was in the process of being gentrified, so it was only a matter of time until the value of the house increased tenfold. The plan was that we would eventually sell the house, and the money was going to support us as we grew old together.
Together we lasted two years. On the day I moved out of our house, I suggested that when the time was right, we'd need to talk about dividing the money from the sale of the house.
"Why would I do that?" Josh said coolly. "This is my house."
I couldn't get my mouth off the floor. This betrayal was such a shock that a year later I still had not gotten over it, let alone forgiven him. This wasn't an angry lover lashing out; clearly Josh had planned to keep the house from the day we had bought it. "Let me sign the papers for the house," he'd explained. "My bosses are conservative, and if they find out we're living together it might jeopardize my future with them. Give me your share of the money and we'll put everything in my name, but we both know that this is our house." He was studying to be a lawyer in a big Washington, D.C., law firm that was financing his education. He knew the court system inside out; it was in his blood--his father and grandfather had been lawyers. Spending time in court would be a game to him. I had so lost the case.
I woke up day after day dizzy with resentment and told my Judas story to anyone who would listen. Everyone agreed that Josh had stabbed me in the back, and that his was an unforgivable act. When they assured me that "what goes around comes around," I felt the sweet shiver of vindication. Their words were music to my ears.
Josh's betrayal became the central story of my life. Each day I needed to enroll more people in my point of view, so when I wasn't telling my story to some stranger I'd just met, I was revisiting the memory in my mind's eye. Most nights when I should have been sleeping I was reliving the pain of what he'd done to me. I replayed that final conversation with Josh a good five hundred times, each ending the same way in my imagination: his tear-stained humble admission that he was wrong and I was right.
On the days when the hate made it hard to breathe, I took stabs at forgiving him, mainly to have a few moments of peace, but it didn't last. Or maybe it lasted for an hour or a day, and one time even for a whole week. But then I'd return to the central premise that kept the fire of my resentment burning: a person like that doesn't deserve forgiveness. Anyway, if I forgive my betrayer, aren't I betraying myself?
The day before Prayer Partnering turned my life around, I was vacationing at a friend's house at the Delaware shore. It was a beautiful day and I was standing at the counter with the owner of a jewelry store. We were making small talk and before I knew it I was launching into the thousandth rendition of "the story". I saw what I was doing, but I couldn't stop my anger from leaking out. When I finished I eagerly awaited the shop owner's sympathy. He looked at me with pity--not pity for what had happened to me but pity for the person I had become, an angry, bitter woman. I could see in his eyes that I was not somebody he would want as a friend. I was like the homeless man I'd seen once on the subway platform with his pant leg rolled up revealing a festering sore in hopes that someone would take pity and throw a few coins his way. The shopkeeper said the right words about how wronged I had been, but instead of feeling justified, I felt ashamed.
Awakenings, when they come, are often so subtle that if you aren't paying attention you will miss them. For a few clear moments I saw myself honestly. I saw the woman I had become by feeding my resentment of Josh: the more I blamed him, the weaker I got. I became a woman who was digging a grave for my enemy, and in the process was burying myself alive. I saw that Josh had moved on with his life and I had not.
That July night in my friend's guest bedroom I put in a midnight call to my friend Peter. He was the one who months ago had told me kindly that he was sick of listening to my sad story. He didn't mean he was sick of me, but that my story was making him sick. I was calling him because tonight I, too, was finally sick of my story. I realized that my story had sucked the life out me over the course of the year, and I was having trouble breathing with all that hate inside me.
The conversation with Peter was short because it was late.
"Do you want to be right or happy?" he asked simply.
Who wouldn't want to be right? Yet after a year of being right, what did I have to show for it?
"Happy," I replied.
Peter asked me to tell him the last time I had been happy.
I confessed that I couldn't.
"How about the last time you were free, sweetie?" he asked kindly.
"I can't remember."
"So just forgive and let go of the story," he said as if it were that simple.
"It's not that simple."
Peter claimed it was. "To your heart forgiveness is simple--it's only the head that has trouble with it."
"How the hell am I supposed to get from my head to my heart?" I asked, as if all this somehow were now his fault.
"You've pitched a tent in the valley of the shadow of death and have made your home there," he told me. "Don't you know the Psalm says, 'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death'? You stopped walking; I'm here to walk with you. Are you interested?"
"Who wouldn't be?"
"Okay then, for the next ninety days we will be Prayer Partners and we will pray together every morning for about five minutes." Peter said I should call him the next morning at eight. "Sharp," he added like an exclamation point, and then hung up.
I had heard the familiar saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and I imagined that a person like me would have to walk all the way to Calcutta. But that night I got what Peter was trying to tell me about the head and the heart. The spiritual journey isn't the distance from who I am now to who I want to be; it's about moving my inner attention from my head to my heart, a distance of less than twenty-four inches. Although the distance is short, it is the most important trip we will ever be asked to take. Our head and heart, like two separate, spinning planets, are worlds apart in how they view life.
How we view life is how we do life.
I never did make it out of the rocking chair to the bed that night. As I rocked, I resented having to get up at eight and pray. I resented having to forgive my ex, who seemingly got off scot-free while I was stuck doing the work every day for three whole months. I didn't notice the blame insidiously seeping back in; when you begin with blame, there is no end to the blame.
By four in the morning forgiving felt like defeat, and by five I wished I could just wring his neck and be done with it. By six my heart was a fist.
By seven o'clock in the morning I rallied. I took a hot shower, had my coffee, and wrestled the ugly images in my head to the ground. I had read that when someone is about to die there is a last rush of life that flows through their body, like life's last stand before it is extinguished. That's what I figure happened to me that night. All of my resistance to walking through the valley of the shadow of death surfaced. The part of me that didn't want to be free of blaming Josh had its say. In letting my small, scared self emerge, I was free to make the call to my new Prayer Partner (whatever that was) and try something new.
At eight sharp I dialed Peter's number.
He never had a problem saying what he meant. "You have to really be willing to do this or you'll be wasting my time, and yours. Are you?"
When you hit bottom you can't go any lower. I said that I was ready.
"We'll be praying every morning for ninety days. I'll be your Prayer Partner." He told me that a Prayer Partner is different from a friend--we don't chat about things that happen in our lives. There's no talk about what our plans are for the day or chores we want to accomplish.
Posted November 18, 2011
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Posted December 2, 2010
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