Moving feels like it takes forever! At least it was feeling that way to me. Laura and I were clearing the house where we had lived for 16 years—not exactly forever, but no small amount of time either. It’s a hard job to go through that many years of memories. The moving trucks had already come and gone. We were mostly cleaning and sweeping and taking care of the last items that had not had time to be properly packed.
When it was time for a break we decided that we would need to sit for a little bit, and, of course, all our chairs were now an hour away. So we elected to head to Joe’s Italian and see our favorite chef. Joe’s is a wonderful little spot—not too big, not too far away. Every time we walk in we always feel like family. There were not too many other folks there for lunch on this Thursday afternoon.
As he often does Joe came out when he had orders ﬁlled and talked with his customers. He sat at a table across the room talking with a couple from Florida. They had apparently known Joe for at least a decade. Joe is one of those folks who makes friends easily. His skill in the kitchen is matched by his gift for gab.
Just because they were at another table did not keep Joe from engaging all of us in conversation. Through this indirect connection we were also sharing table talk with the folks across the way. We heard that they were looking for a house to buy in the area. We heard that they have a granddaughter who lives in Knoxville. They seemed pleasant folks.
They heard that I am a minister and that I am taking a church in Knoxville. They heard that we were in the process of moving. They even asked if our house was for sale.
As we got ready to leave. There was some more direct conversation. I learned that her name is Rose and his name is Gary. He is a Vietnam Vet. I shook hands and introduced myself.
At that point Rose stood up and said, “30 seconds, please.” I was not sure what that meant. She smiled. Then she put her arm around my shoulder and began to pray for me. She prayed for our move and for my new ministry. She prayed that God would put a hedge around me as I started in a new place. She was forthright and her language was simple.
I put my arm around her shoulder as she began. When she was ﬁnished I prayed for Rose and Gary and their granddaughter. It wasn’t much more than the 30 seconds that she had asked for—maybe a minute. But it was the moment that mattered. In this brief instant she was led to pray and we were led to connect as complete strangers.
She did not know me at all. Here I was standing there in dirty camouflage shorts, a dusty black t-shirt, unshaven, with a camo bandana around my head. I certainly did not look like a pastor. Yet, she was ready and willing to jump in and pray for me.
The Bible speaks of prayers as being as sweet incense that rises before God. I was struck by Rose and her sweet spirit and sweet prayer, and I hope that God was as well. On a day that was ﬁlled with dust and sweat and thirst, her prayer was an oasis of refreshment, a spring of living water from an unknown source, a memorable moment. I have little doubt that she prays a lot. I have little doubt that she has done this before. She has probably spread those prayers out for many others. Her statement of “30 seconds, please” sounds like something that has happened numerous times.
River Jordan has written a book entitled Praying for Strangers, in which she recounts her experiences of praying for strangers every day for an entire year. I have read it twice now. I was struck by the variety of unusual and common circumstances that led her to exercise the gift for prayer on a daily basis. I have prayed for many strangers since. I have sometimes told them that I was praying for them, sometimes not. It is a challenging discipline to explore.
I have usually been on the active end of those prayers. I have oﬀered spot prayers for people in stressful situations; I have prayed for folks who appeared to be a bit harried in their work; I have prayed for children who were being disciplined in the grocery store; I have prayed for funeral processions and passing ambulances; I have prayed for those who are homeless and hungry. I pray a lot.
So it was quite the turn for someone to surprise me by praying for me—a complete stranger. I was both surprised and pleased. It meant much to me. It was only 30 seconds, but it altered my whole day. It makes me think that in the future I, too, will approach someone and say, “30 seconds please.” That may be all it takes to turn a day from drudgery to delight for someone we encounter along the way. That may be all it takes to shift someone’s perspective enough to alter the course of life. That may be all that is needed to make a world of diﬀerence. I assure you that those 30 seconds made a diﬀerence for me.