“When There’s Nothing You Can ‘Do’ …” column for April 14, 2015

Have you ever wanted to do something for a friend who was hurting, but it seemed there was nothing you could do? What if you could lift the weight of the world, just a little, off her weary shoulders and carry it for her for a while?

Let’s call her Katy. It’s not her name, but she looks like a Katy. We met long ago in church. She was 19 or so. I was a few years older, but she was an old soul, wise beyond her years. We became forever friends.

I suspect she never planned to be a minister’s wife. But she fell hard for a guy who was born to be a preacher and that was it, there was no turning back.

Separately, they were truly wonderful people. But the sum of them together was so much more, something else entirely.

I wish you could know them.

Over the years, they moved a bit, pastoring churches here and there. We didn’t get to see each other often, but when we did, it seemed we’d never been apart.

Life flew by, our children grew up, the preacher’s beard turned gray. Now we email each other photos of our grandchildren.

When your child grows up, you don’t get to stop being a mother. You still love and worry and pray for a grown child just as much you did for the baby and the toddler and the teenager.

OK, maybe not as much as for the teenager, but nearly.

The difference is you can’t stop a 20-year-old from running into the street. Or send a 30-year-old to her room. Or tell a 40-year-old to stop putting peas up his nose. You aren’t in control of their lives any more. You never were, but for a while, you tried to make them think you were.

When they’re grown, all you can do is watch and pray.

Katy is good at watching and praying. One of the best. But when the road runs long, even the best can grow weary. For years, she has prayed especially hard for her youngest, who is struggling to find his way in the world. Never mind the details. If you’ve ever had to watch a child suffer, you know what it’s like as a parent to feel helpless, to feel your heart ache and break, time and time again.

Katy sends me updates so I can pray for her son. But I wanted to do something more.

Years ago, as my first husband neared the end of a long and valiant battle with cancer, I found myself growing weary, physically and spiritually. I wanted to be strong for him and our children. But honestly? I couldn’t see how I’d do it.

Some good friends decided I needed a break. They arranged to take care of my husband and sent me away for a weekend to a monastery for a silent retreat.

Yes, silent. Yes, it was weird. Picture me not talking.

But the weirdest part was this: We were asked to make a list of everyone and everything we wanted to pray for. My list was three pages long. Then we were told to give the lists to the retreat leaders, who would pray all weekend for everything we had listed. All our prayer concerns would be covered, they said, freeing us to pray _ get this _ for ourselves.

It wasn’t easy. Mothers don’t get much practice praying for ourselves. But I tried. And when the weekend was over, I went home knowing I would have whatever I needed to see my husband and our children through the dark hours ahead.

That’s what I offered to do for Katy, to lift that weight off her shoulders, to pray for her son, as if he were mine, and free her to pray just for herself.

She found it hard to fathom. For a mother, letting go is the hardest thing to do. But she agreed to try it just for a day. Sometimes, being willing to try is a bold act of faith.

Prayer is a mystery. All I know for sure is this: What it changes, more than anything, is the one who prays. I will pray for my friend and her precious child. And the blessing will be mine.


  1. Sharon,

    I love this piece. I also love the mystery of God’s mercy for us that you referenced. In today’s polarized world where well-intended folks think they have all the answers for the world’s and people’s problems, it is the mystery of God that covers us all. And as you have so magically stated, we receive the blessings when we choose the way of the servant, especially through prayer.

    Continued blessings,

  2. Sharon,
    As I read this beautiful column I felt you were talking directly to me. My son-in-law still fights cancer and my daughter continues to work every day and hope for a miracle. I was with friends this past Saturday for 3 glorious hours of watercolor painting and catching up. One of my friends just spent months as her husband fought cancer. Her advice: take care of yourself. I am going to try putting my heat aches ( for my daughter and son-in-law and their 4 yr old twins) and put some serious effort into praying for myself for a while. And, then, once again, gradually, I will add all the other people who are struggling, including your friend and her son.

  3. I just got done reading a post from a dear friend that has a medically fragile child….she & her hubby have peace within, but their bodies have been beat up with the care giving. I am forwarding your words to her with my promise to pray for her & her hubby.

    I read your posts right away, the day they come out. But this week I didn’t read it until today. Isn’t God’s timing…..amazing?

  4. I have been sad all day, crying..for some of what you wrote and other things. Praying all day for others, forgeting about me. God give me the strength…I need you to see me too. Blessings to all of us.

  5. Kate Sciacca says

    Hmmm… My sibs still call me Katy…. And with 8 kids I sure could relate to this mom’s Cross…. I will pray for her and her intentions. Yup, very very hard to pray for ourselves… Others need our prayers so much more don’t ya know? ;-). A wise priest once told me this about prayer… “I don’t know HOW it works…. But it WORKS!” 🙂

  6. Sharon, yet again you’ve given me something to ponder that I’ve never even considered. It still amazes me (although at this point I don’t know why it should) that you’ve shared more meaningful gifts with me than even some of my dearest friends. God truly had great plans for you & you fulfill them every day.

  7. sydney love says

    I will pray for your friend. I know how she must feel. I have had my share of heartache with children and it isn’t easy. Sometimes it seems no matter that you raise them to love Jesus, the devil is right there to snatch them up in his snares. Some of my prayers have been answered and some of them haven’t but I still pray without ceasing because God knows our hearts. I also don’t know that my prayers will be answered while I’m living but my heavenly Father understands my heart wish. Now I have grandchildren to worry about so it never gets any easier. I will pray for Katy and her family and especially her son. How fortunate she is to have a friend like you to pray for her and share her heart ache. You are the Best!

  8. Elizabeth says

    Thank you so very much for this column. I have one of those sons. Today he turns 36. In prison. I am about to leave for the 10 hour drive to visit him tomorrow. I have had some wondrful women in Al-Anon walk by my side and carry my hurt and sadness from time to time over these many years. They have prayed buckets for me and my child and held me hen I cried. I know all the prayers have helped. He is growing and maturing in ways I would never have imagined. I think it took prison for God to get his attention!

    Thank you for your eloquence.

  9. Thanks Sharon. I’m sure you know what this meant to her.
    “Katy” knows she’s loved.

  10. I am praying too for your friend and
    her son . Thank you we all are connected . Caring
    for ourselves is hard but it is very necessary
    to stay strong to help everybody else .

  11. Bill Taylor says

    You write essays which are so profound but true too life.I share them with my daughter ,who is a grandmother,and my favorite daughteras i have only one,but am fortunate to have a favorite one son.I fell in love with your essays when i read your first one in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.Have you combined them in a book as i would like to purchase it?If you have not ,you should.Thank you very much for your insperational writings.You can’t take a good old southern girl out of her rearin.

  12. Antoinette Cox says

    My husband of 54 yrs. died 2 days after Christmas this last year. 54 yrs. just isn’t enough. I was praying and asking God what he had in store for me now. Don’t usually pray for myself but for others. I asked for God’ favor on my life and then was so excited when He began showing me how much He cared for me in even the small things. Blessings started pouring out. It is easy to ask others to pray for us but not always easy to pray for ourselves. What an example of God’s favor you are for your friend Katy and her family. Thanks for sharing and reminding us all to reach out to make others’ lives easier to bear.

  13. Oh, Sharon, this is beautiful and so encouraging. We have a 48 year old daughter that we have spent the last 30 years grieving over. She has totally turned her back on God, us, her brother, and everything she was raised to be. She literally turns her back on us if she has the misfortune to see us. I truly believe that she will turn back to God – not sure if it will be while I’m living, but that’s okay. If she does we’ll be together in heaven for eternity. I’ll be praying for Katy and the rest of the family, including her son. Nobody ever told us that motherhood is a terminal condition!

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