3 Simple and Effective Ways to Pray for Another’s Suffering

Three Simple and Effective Ways to Pray for Another Who’s in Pain:

 1. Listening as Prayer

2. Visualization of One in Pain  Standing in the Light as Prayer

3. The Tibetan Buddhist Practice of Tonglen as Prayer

Prayer may just be the most powerful tool one has.  – Ted Dekker

Most everybody believes something about the healing power of prayer, but not everyone is willing to pray for another person who’s in emotional or physical pain. The reasons may be:

– does not believe in a Higher Power

– unwillingness to take the time

– lack of knowledge regarding the mechanics of prayer

– doesn’t feel worthy to pray

– afraid of appearing to manipulate the outcome for another through prayer

Although the intent of this post is not to convince anyone of the positive power of prayer or to cite research on the subject, I will include these words of well-known author/physician, Dr. Larry Dossey:

NOT TO employ prayer with my patients was the equivalent of deliberately withholding a potent drug or surgical procedure.

My intent is to offer three simple methods of prayer that may be used by anyone at any time; none of the three are in any way are manipulative as to desired outcome.

Victoria, Chaplain McCullough and Dog Trixie

Toward the end of second grade, Victoria was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The following summer found the girl frail, in pain and confined to a hospital bed.

One morning, the hospital chaplain came in to visit. Chaplain McCullough hovered over Victoria’s bed and smiled down at the girl. The tall chaplain reverently attempted small talk, but quickly sensed the pale patient’s silent unhappiness.

Wanting to comfort her, Chaplain McCullough said, “You know, Victoria, God is right up there watching over you and helping make you well again.”

Victoria pulled at the edge of her yellow blanket refusing to meet his gaze, but made a little sound as if to agree with only half her heart.

The chaplain offered, “God loves you. Let’s together pray to Him to help you get well.”

The chaplain held Victoria’s hands, suggested she close her eyes and began to pray, “Heavenly Father, heal this beautiful child and make her strong again so she can start third grade in September and run and play with her friends before….”

The chaplain prayed on longer than he should have and finally ended with blessing the little girl’s family and friends and amen.

The chaplain gave Victoria’s hand an extra squeeze and told her she could open her eyes, but saw that now she was sobbing. He looked at her with questioning eyes while feeling a sense of urgency to get on with his rounds of offering pastoral care to the sick.

Victoria looked up at him with a little fire in her wet eyes and claimed, “You don’t understand! I wanted to pray for Trixie! She’s my dog and going to have puppies any minute. A car hit her yesterday and knocked her to the curb, and Trixie passed out and I just want her puppies to be born okay, and I’m so afraid.”

Chaplain McCullough drew in a deep breath saying, “Okay. Let’s try that prayer again.”

Listening as Prayer

The well-meaning chaplain in the story might have slowed down in a receptive manner and waited until the sick girl felt safe enough to share her fears about her dog with him. Maybe a formal prayer wasn’t even necessary.

When you sit with someone who’s suffered loss or is in pain, and listen with the third ear and an open heart, the listening process becomes a healing prayer, even if you hardly speak a word.

Visualization of One in Pain Standing in the Light as Prayer

Maybe you’ve read about an abducted child and have the urge to pray for her to be found safe. Or, a co-worker’s spouse is undergoing a liver transplant and you’d like to pray for the success of the surgery. Or, perhaps your own loved one is given a few months to live and you yearn to pray for a miracle. On the human level we want only good for these folks, but on a deeper level, it is NOT up to us to formulate in prayer what we think the outcome should look like.

Instead, use your inner eye to create an image of the victim or troubled individual standing in a radiant light, bathed in its warm, golden luminosity and with a smile on his face.

This method of praying transcends the level of our human wants and needs and moves into the spacious field of possibility which knows and gives form to the outcome that is best for the individual.

Tonglen as Prayer

The practice of tonglen comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Capture a clear mental image of the person who is suffering and the circumstances involved. As you inhale, breathe his pain and the causes of the pain into your heart. The pain transforms in your heart and as you exhale, what you direct back to the person is unconditional love.

Don’t worry! You won’t “catch” his pain and suffering by breathing it in.

On the contrary, the process of inhaling another’s suffering, transforming it in the heart and extending love and compassion back out through the exhale fortifies YOU on every level of body, mind and spirit.

Your prayer for someone may or may not  change them, but it always changes you.  – Craig Groeschel

If you’ve been hesitant to pray for others, try these practices. Let me know how it goes.


  1. Thank you again Heather Stevning. These methods of prayer are moving, loving, and powerful, and exactly what I needed! I am surprised and in awe, I have much to learn and willing to learn I feel. For all of which I am eternally grateful for your guidance and wisdom. Thank you, thank you, thank you,
    Steven C. Gray

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