Next to my computer at home are Post-It notes full of the names of the dead; some I have buried myself and some I have mourned from a distance during the pandemic. Some I know personally and miss terribly. And some have been entrusted to me by people who need their prayers held when they became too heavy to hold on their own.
Somewhere, I’ve got to believe, God Almighty has every single name of those who have died from COVID-19, a million Post-It notes tacked to a wall. Every single person, precious and beloved, even if they were not treated this way here on earth.
When the news came that the president and first lady had tested positive for coronavirus, I knew I needed to pray for them. And I do not want to pray for them.
I do not want to pray for them because the president has behaved in ways that are vicious, racist and dangerous. Again and again, President Trump has chosen cruelty over kindness, lies over truth and self-interest over the common good. Why should I grant this man any more of my attention, time or prayers?
I do not want to pray for President Trump. I will pray for President Trump.
Praying for Trump, who chooses to behave in ways that are stunningly inhumane at nearly every turn, is not about who he is, but about who I want to be.
Twelve step spirituality has taught me about granting people the “dignity of their own decisions.” The president and those around him have made choices in this pandemic that compromise their safety and that of others. Their decisions have hurt the lives of millions of people, and lead to death, disproportionately among Black and Latino communities. They are grown adults and I grant them the dignity of their own terrible choices. They will have to answer to the electorate they endangered, and ultimately, to the Lord.
I pray for their healing because the lives of so many depend on a functioning government and the healing of this nation. And despite so much evidence to the contrary in the behaviors of this particular person, I do believe change is possible. I have to pray with the humility of my own shortcomings, sinfulness and hypocrisy. Self-deceit is universal.
But I keep praying for the president because I refuse to become what I fear. I do not want to become brittle, vindictive, vengeful. I pray the president and his family do not suffer. I pray for healing, because we need it desperately.
I pray for Donald Trump because I do not want to become someone who rejoices in the distress of others. I remember with disgust the times he mocked the disability of a journalist, mocked the pneumonia of Hillary Clinton, and as recently as the debate, mocked Joe Biden for wearing a masks that protect others. COVID-19 is a terrible disease. It steals the breath from people’s lungs. If I rejoice in suffering, even in the suffering of a pugilistic president, I have become what I despise.
Praying for Trump, who chooses to behave in ways that are stunningly inhumane at nearly every turn, is not about who he is, but about who I want to be. I want to be more like Jesus, who very clearly commanded his disciples to pray for your enemies and those who persecute you.
Prayer is not wishful thinking, but in the language of religious practice, “a spiritual discipline.” Like putting on a mask, we do it both for ourselves and for others. And the repetition changes us. After years of prayer, I know this: Turning something over to God in prayer is also one way for it to release its hold on me.
Sometimes, all we can do is entrust someone to the Lord and leave them there.
... to those who are too angry or too heartsick to pray, I will take your turn today, trusting you will take mine some time, too.
And if my convictions are coherent, if I really and truly believe each and every one of us is precious and beloved, that includes Donald Trump. And so I pray for his healing, and entrust him into God’s care and pray for God’s will to be done.
When I was a teenager in church, I thought it rebellious to see what would happen when I stopped reciting the prayers. The voices of the elders carried on without me.
Mid-pandemic, a pastor colleague, weary from one too many online worship services, realized mid-service he forgot the words to the Lord’s Prayer. He stopped, and started, but the words failed him. Not once, but twice. Words that every pastor knows by heart suddenly escaped the leader. And yet, when he did not have the words to lead, the community carried on.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” the congregation prayed.
How do we pray for a cruel president? Maybe I pray while I can. And to those who are too angry or too heartsick to pray, I will take your turn today, trusting you will take mine some time, too. It's what I miss so much about praying together in person, your voice coming in when my voice is too weak or angry to continue.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
God’s will. Not Donald Trump’s will. Not my will. God’s will be done.