Structurally, we pray for women in our church in primarily two ways. Our team consists of around 15 women who have been appointed by the elders of our church to come alongside them and help in the spiritual care of our women. Every year, we assign each of the ladies of our church to one woman on our team. Over the course of the year, each woman on the team will email her list once, letting her know we are praying for her at the upcoming meeting (we typically pray for two women’s lists per month). Essentially, this allows us to pray for every woman in our church by name at least once over the course of the year.
Reaching out to women in this way has allowed us to find hurting women who may have quietly gone unnoticed in the pew. One such woman was carrying a huge emotional and physical burden that she had not shared with anyone outside of her family. She felt she could open up because a care team member simply asked how she could be praying for her. Once our team became aware of all that was going on, the deacons and elders got involved to help care for the family in ways that blessed the family and released its members from the burden of carrying the struggle on their own. Perhaps asking those around us, “How can I be praying for you?” instead of “How are you doing?” is a simple change that might strengthen our churches and enfold the hurting into loving community.
Plead, Weep, Cling
While the first way we reach out to women is structured and takes organization on the front end, the second way we care for women is by simply meeting each month and allowing women to come for prayer. When a woman comes for prayer, she begins by spending some time sharing her requests. We ask follow-up questions, and then we gather around, placing our hands on our sister, and we pray. While we cannot solve the struggles, we can walk with her to the throne room of God and beg for help. We plead. We weep. We cling to his promises. Women come heavy-laden, and through prayer we bear these burdens (Gal. 6:2) together as a community.
We pray for a variety of women. Missionaries home on furlough come to share their needs. Women come who are beginning new ministries, struggling with temptation, aching with loneliness, suffering under the sin of another, hoping for a baby, struggling to care for aging parents, experiencing the grief of loss, and walking through various sorts of trials.
Some evenings, the juxtaposition of the women exposes the reality that all stages of life involve painful struggles. One evening, we had a woman ask us to pray for her infertility. On the same evening, another woman came asking us to pray for her post-partum depression. On another evening, a woman came who was deeply longing for a spouse. The woman who followed shared about the hardships in her marriage. Whatever the season, struggles appear like unwelcome weeds in our garden. The Eden we hope for was lost long ago and will not be renewed until Jesus returns.
Our prayer meetings do not afford our team the luxury of unawareness. When I look around the sanctuary on Sundays, I see the hurts, betrayals, and losses. Sometimes it is overwhelming, and I just want to put the blinders on once again and believe the lie that behind all the smiles I see on Sunday are perfect lives and sunny skies. I increasingly understand why Paul listed among his sufferings that he experienced daily pressure on behalf of the church (2 Cor. 11:23-29). For this reason, my heart is heavy on the fourth Monday of the month.
In spite of my reluctance, I keep going. I have found that walking in the depths with other women and weeping when they weep is the very thing that opens my heart in new ways to rejoice when they rejoice. By walking in the shadows and entering into the struggles of my sisters, I also experience the deep joy of seeing God work in the midst of our women. He is not just answering her prayer; he is answering mine. Suffering together allows us to rejoice together.
Time and again, in both the giving and the waiting, God proves that he is enough. He holds the woman whose arms are barren. He is faithful to the woman struggling with unfaithfulness. We watch him give endurance to the weary, hope to the hurting, and fellowship to the lonely. Just a few weeks ago, a woman came for prayer that her husband would come to faith. Two years before, we had prayed for that very woman to come faith through one of our outreach studies. We prayed for his soul while rejoicing that hers had come home.
Weeping may endure for our Monday evening prayer meetings, but it also awakens our hearts for sharing in the joy that comes in the morning. With this hope we are encouraged: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). While my Jonah heart may attempt to run from this responsibility, there is no greater privilege than faithfully coming together in prayer.