My four-year-old son’s little wooden boat (actually just a disk of wood) got stuck on top of a flat rock as it travelled down a little stream. Even though he is pretty young, he is an imaginative problem solver. Rather than asking me for help, he looked around, grabbed a stick, stood at the side of the stream, and reaching over the water tried to dislodge his boat with his stick. Unfortunately, his stick was too short. Reaching out just little too far, he lost his balance, slipped, and fell into the stream hands first.
Amazingly, the slight change in water level and redirecting of water currents from his hands thrusting into the water were just enough to lift his boat off the rock and set it free. Without ever touching the boat, my son’s actions freed the boat from being snagged, and allowed it to continue on its way downstream. (Fortunately the stream was very shallow, so, other than getting a little wet, he was unharmed by his fall.)
Watching this scene unfold from the opposite side of the stream, I suddenly understood the effect of intercessory prayer. As it was with my son, his stick, and his boat, often times it is beyond our reach to give direct help to someone who’s run into a snag in life. However, in some mystical way, God has set the spiritual realm up like a body of water so that our diving into the water with prayers, petitions, praises, and sacrifices, changes not only the level of the water, but also the course of the spiritual currents. These two changes naturally impact everything and everybody in that spiritual body of water.
A clearer image of this may be to see how it is that every time someone does a cannonball into a pool. Not only do temporarily displaced waves of water rush out from where the person jumped in, but even after the initial waves have calmed down, the water level of the entire pool is raised up as long as the jumper remains in the pool.
In some light-hearted way we could call intercessory prayer a spiritual cannonball! If we envision intercessory prayer this way, then obviously, the more often we jump in and pray, the better! The higher and harder we jump in and pray, the better! The bigger our sacrifices, all the better! The longer we stay in the pool or remain in prayer, the better the effect our prayers will have on those for whom we are praying.
Especially as my children get older and reach adulthood, I have had to face the reality that godly parenting is a really complex undertaking. Not only can I not always come to my children’s direct aid, sometimes it is actually better for them if I do not, even if I can.
Sometimes I will commit to prayer a Rosary a day for one of my daughters, and as I do, I envision that I am raising the level of water or grace surrounding her. One boulder at a time I am elevating the spiritual water level, eventually helping to buoy her up from despair or hopelessness or just being stuck on a particular problem.
Sometimes I decide to fast from something I love as a prayer for one of my sons. I visualize it as a way of taking a good that I would normally enjoy and rather than keeping that good for myself, casting it into the waters of grace and letting the currents created move my son to a new and better place.
Nowadays, when I encounter problems I cannot solve, people I cannot fix, and situations I cannot change, I recall my son’s falling into the stream, how it set his little boat free, and I dive into intercessory prayer.
Copyright 2013 Heidi Bratton