I came home from work last Wednesday night, August 29th, flipped through the major network channels and was quickly disturbed by the bickering and bantering of the political campaigns, advertisements, and pundits. I felt an ache in my gut, a sadness in my heart for the way our country conducts itself through the election season, from both sides. I turned the TV off, trying to keep cynicism from creeping in.
So when I received a call the following day with an invitation to pray for our nation at the DNC, I almost laughed in disbelief. The person on the other end of the line was an acquaintance who used to work for the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives. He was looking for a Christian who has done “good and admirable work in the world” and was familiar with Blood:Water Mission because he had heard me speak a couple of times. It was a big call full of questions- how can I pray honestly before an arena of politics and power? How do I, a nonprofit leader, transcend partisanship? Of course, I felt honored and excited, but I mostly felt humbled, like in the heavy, sobering kind of way.
To take on the task, I retreated for several hours on Saturday September 1st to my secret garden of Radnor Lake near Nashville and walked along the soft soil of its trail, lost in thought and reflection, wondering what I could possibly pray to the God of the universe in front of people from various backgrounds, convictions and walks of life.
As I meandered through the woods, I had this unrelenting sense that I ought to simply pray for the things I care most about: Justice. Mercy. Humility. The prayer of St. Francis came to me, as well as the Scripture in Micah that says that seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God are what the Lord requires of us.
I spent the rest of Saturday night in my not-so-secret garden of Starbucks where James met me, and gave me encouragement as I put the words to paper.
James and I spent a full weekend hosting his parents, driving to Louisville to celebrate an incredible young man whose life was taken by cancer and the 40th birthday of a dear friend of ours. In the midst of these deep moments with family and friends the prayer was brewing in me, percolating.
By Tuesday September 4th, I was in Charlotte with a prayer on my heart that was ready to be shared. Backstage that night, I sat with incredibly influential people – Rahm Emanuel, Kathleen Sebelius, Kal Penn, Craig Robinson, and Governor Deval Patrick. I watched these powerful people look as human as I was. I asked Governor Patrick if he ever gets nervous in situations like these. He smiled at me and replied, “Of course I do!” And then he kindly said, “You’ll do great.”
I sat on the side of the stage as the First Lady spoke with heart and elegance, and then when she finished, I walked up to the podium and felt the most amazing sense of peace and confidence in what I was supposed to pray. They were the honest words of a citizen, praying to God and hoping also to reach other citizens on their couches, who might be watching with the same sentiments I felt just five days earlier. I meant every word and have been encouraged by the thousands of you who prayed alongside of me. May justice and mercy trump partisanship in our lives these next 9 weeks.
Jena Lee Nardella is the co-founder and Executive Director for Blood:Water Mission, a nonprofit focused on overcoming the HIV/AIDS and water crises in Africa.