Why I Can’t Pray for Japan


I have this pig bobblehead in my car. I got it at a Cracker Barrel restaurant before I could even drive, this little pink plastic guy who waved his head at me. He’s transitioned from dresser to Explorer to Escort, but he’s not holding up too well anymore. His back is cracked, his brown spots have turned to a dull green, and – well, there’s no easy way to say this – his head no longer bobbles. But he’s still in place of honor on my dashboard, regardless of his beauty.

This little pig has a bell around his neck. It’s a golden bell, and I forget it’s there until I hit major potholes in the road. And then it jingles, just slightly. If my music’s not on, I hear it – a tiny tinkle.

I’ve begun to take that as a sign. I don’t think I believe that God causes me to hit potholes just so my pig’s bell can ring – I’m a poor enough driver to do that on my own. But whenever that pig’s bell rings, I stop my thought process for a second and pray for whatever/whoever I was just thinking about. Usually, I’m coming home from work or from seeing a friend, and I can always think of something to shoot up to heaven briefly.

I’m not very good at praying. I just am not good at it. It doesn’t help that I’m a pretty terrible conversationalist in real life – it stands to reason that I wouldn’t be very good at speaking to the Most High. It’s not like I don’t want to pray, or I don’t like it. Not at all. I’m just better if I have a little feedback, if the conversation is two-sided. Heck, I’ll even take it if the conversation is one-sided, and I’m not that side. I’ve been in plenty of conversations like that.

I have this friend, Lisa, who is a modern prayer warrior. Going to coffee with her is a gift – not only is she completely engaged, completely taking in everything that you are saying and asking all of the right questions, she without fail will ask you what she can pray about for you. She’ll even take a notebook out of her purse, open it, and write it down. I know she’ll pray about it.

I want to be like Lisa. But so often I get so overwhelmed by the amount of hurt there is in the world. I start to pray and I start to think, and I realize how small I am and how big the pain is all around me. I live in a privileged area, a privileged community, a privileged nation. And still the pain of those around me is unbearable. That’s not even considering people around the world who are struggling to survive.

A few days ago, there was an earthquake in Japan. That earthquake caused a tsunami. That tsunami killed over a thousand people, wiped out entire communities, and devastated the nation. Also, it caused massive explosions at nuclear reactors, causing leaks that may be slight or may become bigger. Thousands, if not millions, are impoverished.

I don’t know how to pray about that. It’s been all over Twitter, Facebook. #prayforjapan “Our prayers are with Japan.” Yeah, they are. If I could formulate them, they would be. But I can’t even find the worlds to convey the pain. How do I pray? How can I possibly communicate my anguish, or even know the anguish of the Japanese people?

But when I get overwhelmed, I step back. Pare down. Let go of the big picture. I leave the numbers behind, the fears and the continuing disasters. And I remember that there are individuals who need my prayers. When I think of Japan, I can pray for Hiroki Otomo, whose mother and uncle are missing. Or Hiromitsu Shinkawa, whose wife was swept away during the flooding. Beyond just Japan, when I think of the AIDS epidemic and poverty in Africa, I pray for the little girl I sponsor in Ethiopia, Nancy. Somehow it helps me to narrow things down, to pray for the specifics.

The Lord knows. He knows the pain. He knows when I pray for Nancy, I pray for her nation and every other child like her. He knows when I pray for Hiroki or Hiromitsu that I am praying for all of those who are missing loved ones, whether they are wondering if they are alive or mourning their dead. He knows I cannot comprehend the world and the wounds it contains, but that’s okay because that is his job. He can handle it. He just wants me to be faithful to remember them. To be grateful for my world and to remember the pain in theirs. The Lord doesn’t need me to pray, but I do because I love him and I love the people around me – whether they are next door or halfway around the world.

So I pray for Japan, and I pray for Ethiopia, and I pray for my roommate’s midterm on Tuesday. I pray for my dad’s bad knee and my brother’s college group and my best friend’s marriage. I pray for my co-worker’s relationship with his dad and my own relationship with my future. And through all of those things I pray for all of the hurts of the world. Whenever my piglet’s bell rings.

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