By Carey Gauzens, LCSW, CP

Recently I had the occasion to be prayed for quite a bit, by a number of people who I care about and who care about me. There is nothing unique in this experience, I don’t believe; the unique part was that I knew about it

I had surgery in January of this year for a chronic kidney condition, which I have had since the mid-80’s. Because it was a serious surgery and because I was going to be out of the office for several weeks following surgery, it caused me to share with a number of people, friends and family as well as clients and colleagues, what I was going to be doing. The experience of being prayed for is not a unique one, I do not believe, as I said. People of all faiths, as well as those espousing no particular faith tradition have, I am certain, at different times in their lives been lifted up in prayer, by parents or children, siblings, partners, spouses or friends. Many people have been on a prayer list at church, or have been in small groups and had people pray with them, for them and/or over them.

It is not unusual in our world even for people who are not vocal about their beliefs to say to someone they care about, “I will say a prayer for you,” when they are aware that person is going through a crisis or difficult time. And yet, in spite of ALL OF THIS PRAYER ALL AROUND US, I wonder: How much do we FEEL it? I know we feel it when we pray for others, but how much do we feel it when others pray for us?? Or I guess more accurately, my question is: How much do we THINK about it?

I came to ask this question because I was absolutely overwhelmed with prayers and offers of prayers for me as I approached, experienced and recovered from this surgery, and it is perhaps the first time ever in my life that I was so acutely AWARE of feeling prayed for at all times. It was a profoundly powerful experience. I felt absolutely carried through the surgical experience, especially prior to surgery when my anxieties could have been at their highest, and yet, strangely were completely calm. That, I guarantee you, was prayer! Subsequently, I have spoken with several clients who’ve shared their own experiences of moments when they knew they were being prayed for, and one of the things that fascinates me is, whether or not I have shared my own physical and emotional sensation of being “carried,” the clients who’ve talked about their own experiences have repeatedly used nearly the exact same metaphors: “I felt lifted up,” “It almost felt like my feet were not quite on the ground,” “I felt like I was being carried,” “It seemed like I was being lifted up, physically.”

The experience of feeling so lifted up, and so not alone….so borne aloft by God, and by the support and love and prayers of others, got me to wondering: How often have I been prayed for by others, and could have had this awareness if I had only stopped to be more aware of it? Certainly there have been moments for all of us, I would bet, where we’ve been prayed for by someone else, and just not had it in our awareness. And how helpful could it have been to us during times of greatest distress in our lives if we HAD been aware of those prayers? And that, given the nature of the work I do, really got me wondering about how much easier the healing journey would be for all of us if we practiced being acutely and daily aware of being LIFTED UP by those we care about, as well as by God. Many people of faith manage to get the second one (being aware of God’s love) but sometimes it is awfully hard to remember the people part…. That we are lifted up and more often than we ever realize, thought of and prayed for by others in our lives as well.

For people of faith, knowing that we are loved by God certainly seems to be a basic concept, right?

“Well of course I know I am lifted up by God. Of course I know I am not alone.”

And yet, the simple truth of it is that in our humanity, in our frailty and certainly in our times of pain, we often DON’T know. We “know” (in our heads) that God has us, God is with us, God is “carrying” us, if you will, but we also DON’T “know” (in our hearts, in our core, in our bone marrow, in our bodies) that it is happening, right there, right then in that very moment. And there is something very different about the interpersonal aspect of knowing that other people are praying for us. As I heard a minister say in a wonderful sermon once, quoting a child’s words: “Mommy I know that God is holding me but sometimes I just need someone with skin on.” And I think we are all like that child. We all started out from that young, primal place of needing physical nurturing, needing warmth, needing the “proof” and physical bonding of having a mother hold us, a father hold us, someone we love to physically be present with us. It is a very human need. So we too need someone “with skin on” sometimes.

God created us this way, I believe, and in my experience, both personal and professional, nearly everyone in their life has at some time or another felt the yearning, aching feeling of “not enough” love…of feeling lonely for another human being… for the touch, for the comfort of someone’s PRESENCE. What I found unique about my own experience this winter was the complete physical sense of the presence and warmth and care of other people and of God. It is so normal for us to think about how much we love or miss, or pray for or hold in our hearts, someone else…. And so out of our norm (not “normal”) for us to be in constant, ever present, moment to moment in awareness of how much we are loved by others (including God!) How much easier would it be for us to bear our burdens in life if we KNEW, really knew, in our bones, in our bodies, “with skin on” that our friends, our families, our loved ones, our God, were right there with us? At all times. That we were not, not any of us, completely alone for one moment in our experience

I do not have any easy answers for how to accomplish this, but as a therapist, I do know that AWARENESS is key to our experiences. Simply reaching out every day to open yourself up to the awareness and experience that there are people who love you, who pray for you, who care about how you are doing at all times, seems to be a pretty powerful start. We’ve got to cultivate our awareness…we have to actually THINK about it! Simple as this sounds, we don’t do it. Oh, we think a lot about what bad others might think of us. We’ve got that one down pat! We don’t need any practice at that! What might our lives be like if we spent even HALF of that time countering those thoughts by thinking about how much we are loved?

How would your life be different if every single day, two or three times a day even, for heaven’s (yes) sake, if you stopped to remember: I am loved beyond my wildest imagination in this moment, right here, right now, today. Just as I am. Warts and all.

Both by God spiritually, as well as by the face of God presented to me by those around me “with skin on”? Try it! And then notice:

Can you feel it?

I am betting that you can!

Carey Gauzens is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified psychodramatist (action therapist) and can be reached at (703) 903-9696 ext. 255.