It’s just funny, I guess, the way I get caught up in the lives of other people, folks I don’t even know.
Yet I share their sorrow or rejoice with their successes. And they feel like friends, though most of them I have never met and suppose I never will.
A woman sent me an email the other day. I didn’t recognize her name at all. The message was simple, "Thank you for helping my aunt during this sad time since she lost my uncle."
I didn’t know to whom she was referring. It seems there are so many. Sweet women who read this column or take my weekly newsletter and they feel that since I share my triumphs and tribulations that we are friends.
And, we are, you know. We’re friends. We’re bound by similar experiences and hearts that hurt the same no matter who you are. Southerner, Yankee, cowboy, redneck, socialite. People write and ask me to pray for them because they know that I believe mightily in the power of prayer.
I have prayed for jobs for those who lost theirs, prayed for wayward sons and rebellious daughters, prayed for rain so the crops would grow and someone wouldn’t lose the family farm, prayed for shelter for many when tornadoes hit their towns, prayed for men shrouded in loneliness when their wives quit them, prayed many times for one woman who divorced after 50 years and it seems I pray endlessly for women whose precious husbands just up and die on them. Widow women, country folk like to say.
"I don’t even know you, so it seems strange to ask you to pray for me," the email often begins. "But I can tell you’re a woman of faith, and I need prayer."
No matter what I’m doing when an email like that arrives, I stop, drop my head and pray. It doesn’t stop there. For days, weeks and sometimes months afterward, I’ll think of that request when I’m running, mopping the floor or pulling weeds and I’ll pray again.
I believe — as simple and as humble as those small prayers are — that they help. I remember once a man who was loaded down with sorrow. Death had claimed a son and his wife was on the verge of going crazy from the grief.
"Preacher," he said to my daddy. "There ain’t nothin’ on this earth you can do to help me but if you could find your way clear to pray for me, I’d be much obliged. I stand in need of your prayers."
Daddy’s eyes watered and he clasped tightly the man’s hand. "You can count on it. I promise you that."
Daddy was always real good about calling up and checking on people like that. Just to see if they needed anything and to reassure them that he was praying. "Just hold tight to the hand of the Lord," he’d often say. "He’ll see you through."
So now I find myself checking in with the folks who have asked me to pray. Like the woman in Tennessee whose husband was killed in a farm accident, or the man in Mississippi who lost a fully paid house to a tornado but had no insurance to replace it.
I once prayed a solid year for a woman to find a job after she was laid off from hers. I’ve never met her but it makes no difference. When someone’s in need, you do what you can.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such tough times. I can’t recall another era of my life when despair seemed to rain so freely on so many.
For the past few decades, we’ve all pretty much been self-absorbed but that time is at an end. If we’re all going to make it through, we’re gonna have to help each other.
And that includes praying for those whose faces we have never seen.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of several books, including "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com/ronda.