For What Did Your Church Pray
October 10, 2023

Living in the Tension of Both/And Prayers

Living in the Tension of Both/And Prayers

Maybe it was because of the conversation I had before church. 

Someone shared with me that as wonderful as it was to be in a church with a lot of children, it was hard for him and his wife who desire to grow their family yet grieved  the loss of their children from a number of miscarriages. They struggle to answer where God is in their lives, is God even listening to their prayers? It was a reminder to me that even as we celebrate the blessing of new life and children, we also need to be praying for those who mourn the loss of children and struggle with infertility. We need to both celebrate and publicly and courageously admit that sometimes we don’t understand God, and it is ok to take up a Psalm-like lament. There's so much good in this world—so many blessings to celebrate—but also so much pain, illness, and death to be named and mourned. Both/and.   

Having already thought of the importance of holding two truths in tension and naming both it may not be so surprising that as my pastor led us in the prayers of the people my mind wandered as I wondered about what other churches were praying for that day. 

I wondered if on Sunday churches were praying for the almost 117.2 million displaced and stateless people in our world. It is complicated. There are no easy answers. We all want individuals within our nations to flourish; we want them to have well paying jobs, affordable housing, and access to good medical care and education. And we all want an orderly immigration process that treats people with dignity, is accessible to those who desire to immigrate or claim refugee status, while accomplishing the necessary vetting and processing of applicants in a timely way. Still, thousands upon thousands of individuals, including parents with young children, believe that their current life situation is so untenable that they are better off suffering and possibly dying while trying to reach another country than remaining where they are. They come to our borders, hungry, destitute, traumatized but eager to give back, to share their gifts and knowledge, to work hard. How ought we to respond? I don’t have the answers, but I know that as a church we need to pray for the flourishing of all people: the citizens of our country, those waiting for asylum and immigration processes, and yes, even those who in desperation use illegal means to cross borders. And then while we pray, we ask the Holy Spirit to show us our role in creating opportunities for the flourishing of all. What might God be asking of us as a church and as individuals? Both/and.

I wondered about how we hold that both/and tension, about praying for two truths that seem to be in conflict with each other. I wondered about that because like many around the world I was horrified by the news coming from Israel—the indiscriminate slaughter of so many Israelis by Hamas. Horrific. We prayed for those who mourned and for the cessation of violence. We prayed for the Israelis and then we prayed for the Palestinians. Violence and the disregard for human life is wrong, should not be condoned, and is never the answer. And right now Israelis and Palestinians alike are grieving the death of those they loved and knew, civilians caught in a conflict. We need to acknowledge that and pray for them, for the end of the violence, for justice, and for long term solutions. Yes, it is messy and complicated, and most of us do not fully understand the politics nor the realities of life in Israel and Palestine, but to pray for peace, is to pray for and do the hard work of ensuring the flourishing of all: Israelis and Palestinians. Both/and.

I am sure you can add to this short list of the complicated and the messy: situations that are layered with political agendas, or are so pastorally sensitive that it seems best to avoid praying publicly for them. We fear saying the wrong thing, being judged, or labeled. We wonder if we shouldn’t know more, have some sort of expertise before praying. But as those given the priestly task of leading our people in prayer, it is so important that we courageously step into the space of the both/and, a place where God dwells and is at work. We do so humbly, recognizing that we don’t have the solutions, we might not even fully understand the situation, but God does. And so, we implore God to intervene so that all may flourish and God’s name glorified. We do so with words, with our silence, our groans of lament. 

As you prepare to lead God’s people in worship next week ask yourself where the complicated and messy situations are in your congregation, community, nation, and across the globe. Gather them all up, and courageously and faithfully name and pray for the both/and.  

More from Reformed Worship

Priestly Prayers: Intercessions for the Church and World

Reclaiming the Power of Prayer in Worship

Rev. Joyce Borger is senior editor of Reformed Worship and a resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.