by Laura Neale from YouBelong
Many churches share wonderful prayers on their websites and social media platforms every day. Prayers like these are especially great for people who are new prayer, those who struggle to come up with their own words or anyone who wants to pray alongside others. Set prayers like these also act as a great reminder for people to pray each day and make prayer a part of daily life.
I was raised with a formal, ritualistic style of prayer but overtime I have discovered another way of praying that has helped me connect with God in a deeper way through informal, chatty prayer. Sometimes my prayers are carefully thought out, but other times, my prayer is simply ‘God, help!’ as I lay awake at night in pain.
The Church as a whole is not good at lament. Christians with a chronic illness/ disability, like myself, have become experts. It took me a long time to open up about my struggles on social media but by doing so, it enables others to feel comfortable doing the same. Chronic illness is just that, chronic, long term, and there is often no known or likely end to the pain, fatigue and other symptoms that our lives everyday. Bringing these situations and our grief, anger, frustration and disappointment to God without expecting our situations to change is just what lament is about.
Another part of life that many people with a chronic illness and/or disability are familiar with is isolation. Although many people have become familiar with this during the pandemic, many people have lived an isolated life for many years, some without ever leaving the house or even their bed. Many chronic illnesses and disabilities fluctuate, meaning we can have a good day one day and been able to get ‘out and about’ and appear ‘normal’ and the next, not be able to leave our bed.
As one of those people with a fluctuating condition, I really appreciate the little things that many other people wouldn’t notice because they experience those things every day. A new flower bud on a tree, birds singing in the sky, the taste of a nice slice of cake in a coffee shop, the smell of someone’s perfume as you walk past them in a supermarket, the warmth of a hug and the sound of sung worship coming out of a church building on a Sunday morning.
It is not uncommon for a member of the YouBelong community to share a picture of something they saw or did on their good day on Twitter or Facebook for the rest of us to enjoy. This can then prompt praise to God for the beautiful thing or good experience. I always thank God for my good days because they’re rare.
Although we are an online community, all the things we do and the tech we use can be used by a church that meets solely online as well as a church that is meeting online and onsite (in a building).
Here are a few ways we encourage and support prayer in our community.
The first, and probably most common, way we incorporate prayer into our online community is via a WhatsApp group. The group was set up initially as a place for our book club members to discuss the books we read but has organically turned into much more than that, becoming a space where worries, concerns and prayer requests are shared and encouragements and support are returned.
As an online community, the majority of our community activity and discussions take place on social media, mostly Twitter and Facebook. We have a closed Facebook group for internal/ more private discussions to take place and this is where some people share their prayer requests and where other people find out how they can pray for others. As I said before, social media is also the place people share good things about their day, a photo of something they have seen or something they did and we bring praise to God for those things.
As a community, we have regular events and activities which take place on Zoom such as our bible study discussions, bible journaling, craft mornings and although these are not set up specifically for prayer, we try to give time and space for prayer in these times. We often start or end a session by thanking God for each other and for Him being with us and we’ll occasionally bring particular situations to God there and then too if someone has something they would like prayer for.
Although it is not yet finalised and ready for use, I have recently started to create an online prayer space for the community using Padlet, which allows the user to produce a collage of content, which can include videos, words and pictures. Other people can access the space via a link where and once there, can add their own thoughts and prayer requests, and comment on other people’s prayers and encouragements.