My friend, River, is an inspiration. She made a commitment to pray for a total stranger every single day of her life. She chronicles this journey in her book, Praying for Strangers. Responses from her strangers were all over the place; some happy, some sad, some gentle and some indignant. She is clear about one thing though. Her prayers may or may not have affected the strangers’ days and lives, but they did affect River. After reading her book, I embarked on the same challenge. I began stalking people in grocery stores and parking lots. The post office is also a hotbed of people who really needed prayer. Then I got lazy. One night around 10:00pm I realized that I had forgotten to pray for a stranger that day and well…..it was 10:00pm. What’s a girl to do? I was all cozy in my bed with a Garnet Hill catalogue nesting in my lap pondering how the organic bamboo tee shirts would look on me. Feeling a little guilty, I closed the catalogue and placed it face down on the bed. That is when I got my answer. There in front of me was a toll free number for Garnet Hill, calling my name. Available 24 hours a day don’tcha know! Jackpot. So I dialed. Heck, I could even wait till 2:00am to do the deed. But soon a woman answered with a perky, “Garnet Hill, this is Gina (or Jana or Jenna, I am still not sure) how may I assist you?”
“Uh, hi Jonah. I wanted to ask you about the blue throw pillow on page 40. Uh….is it nice?”
“Oh yes, it is beautiful!” she proclaimed. “The fabric has a nice texture to it. It feels soft even though it has so much texture. I was thinking about getting it myself actually.” She sounded downright euphoric.
“Oh. Thanks. Ok.” I stammered.
“Would you like to place an order for one?” She politely asked.
“Nah. Not now, but thanks.” I muttered. “But Gina? There is one other thing.”
“Well, every day I pray for someone I don’t know, so today you are my person. I am going to pray for you to have a nice gentle life.” The line was quiet for a few seconds, but she probably doesn’t get this call every day. Her empolyee manual offered no training for this particular nut on the phone. Finally she responded. My guess was that the call may be recorded for quality assurance…or something like that.
“Why thank you ma’am. That is very thoughtful.”
“Yeah. It is a little weird I know, but I really will do it. You know. Even though I don’t know you. Actually, because I don’t know you. Is there anything you want me to pray for?”
“No, nothing specific. But thank you. Is there anything else I can assist you with today?” Now she sounded sort of sad, like she was holding down a lump in her throat. She did not sound happy about the pillow anymore.
“No, not right now, but thank you. OK. Well good night. And thanks for the pillow information. I will think about it.”
Then I hung up and thought about Jenna/Jana/Gina. I wondered what her life was like. She sounded content to be talking to people about pretty things in catalogues. She probably sat in a room with lots and lots of other people who took orders. My guess is that daily, she deals with some very difficult people as she was sits staring at a computer. I would not like that job. Maybe she didn’t either, but you wouldn’t know it from her Customer Service 101 phone demeanor and her eagerness to help. I’ll bet that someone told her to smile as she spoke to her customers, even though they could not see her. I’ll bet she was smiling until I told her I would pray for her. Then she wilted. Was that because I had not bought the pillow, or because it made her think of the blessings that she needed while she sat at the telecenter? I will never know, but I did pray for her that night. And maybe it didn’t help her, but I think it helped me, because it was the first time that I thought of someone in her position as a person and not just a vessel through which I can get new stuff. She was a human being with a soul full of joy and sadness, and a life full of people and paychecks. Jonah/Jenna works in a thankless job where she never even gets to see her customers smile. As I continued to pray for her I hoped that she would see lots of smiles all her days, and that she would be peaceful about everything that shaped her life. I prayed that she wouldn’t get any jerks on the phone that day and that as she worked, her back wouldn’t hurt and she wouldn’t fear what the next day may bring. As I prayed I began to realize that if the truth be told, my prayer for her was a blessing for me and that, my friends, cannot be found in a catalogue.