Praying for Strangers

reviewed by Kristine Morris

Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit

by River Jordan

It was New Year’s Eve 2009, and River Jordan’s two sons were being deployed — one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. Fearful and broken-hearted, she recalls: “I see the first day they rode the school bus alone. I see the first day they learned to ride a bike, when they first learned to whistle, to swim, and catch a fish. I’m holding their entire histories in my heart.” Praying for their safe return, she was moved to make what was, for her, a disconcerting New Year’s resolution: to move beyond her own concerns and pray for one stranger a day for a full year — and not just pray for that person but actually tell each one that he or she had stood out for her and was special to her. Never having had success with resolutions before and being an exceptionally private person, Jordan, a novelist and radio host, found that the thought of entering a stranger’s life felt to her like “diving headfirst into a chilly creek,” but she committed to doing it anyway. “I grew up at the knees of a grandmother who prayed, and it fi ltered down into the essence of my life,” she says. “What I’ve never fully captured is that prayer could be more than a vertical connection to God. It never really occurred to me that it could be a connection to other people. Now, every day I delve deeper into people’s stories, and my heart feels like it’s been turned inside out.”

Whether humorous, profoundly moving, or simply intriguing, Jordan’s encounters with the strangers for whom she felt drawn to pray taught her that taking the cares and concerns of others into her heart could help relieve her own anxieties. But more than that, she found that sharing her project with the recipients of her prayers had caused it to morph from a worried mother’s New Year’s resolution into a caring revolution that has spread from one person to another, rippling out to make change in the most intimate, effective, and powerful way possible: one person at a time.


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