Prayers for peace.
Today I am joining Pope Francis in his call for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, which means forgoing my daily breakfast of a protein bar with my coffee and turning my craving for chips and salsa at 1:30 in the afternoon into prayers instead.
But what does it actually mean to pray for peace in Syria? When we join in this call to #prayforpeace, what is the substance of those prayers?
I'm finding that when my heart turns to prayer for peace in Syria today, my prayers follow three main themes:
1. Prayer for the rebels. The rebels are a large, multi-faceted group of militants attempting to topple the current Syrian government and going about it through a variety of violent means. There is no one leader of this group. There is no unified front or strategy. The rebels are comprised of Syrian civilians, former members of the Syrian army, and even members of extreme jihadist groups from outside Syria who have a stake in the outcome of this civil war.
When I pray for the rebels today, I am praying for them to lay down their weapons. I am praying for the God who moves all hearts toward grace to prompt a turn in their hearts toward mercy. I am praying for a willingness in their hearts to come to the table of dialogue. I am praying for them to be given a chance to answer the question, "What will it take to end the violence?"
2. Prayer for the regime. The "regime" is shorthand for the existing Syrian government, led by dictator Bashar Assad. The civil war that has been taking place in Syria for two and a half years officially began when the Syrian government unleashed force against its civilians — including children — in April 2011 in response to protest demonstrations against the regime. Though the civil war in Syria has been happening for that long, it was catapulted to greater international consciousness on August 21, when news of a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians emerged. Right now, Assad is believed to be the one who unleashed this chemical weapons attack against civilians, leading to the death of 1,429 people, although the regime is pointing to it being the work of rebel forces.
When I pray for the regime today, I pray for Assad's heart to be turned toward compassion for his people. I pray for a willingness in his heart to hear their cries. I pray for his hand to be stayed from further violence against them. And I pray for a willingness in his heart to dialogue. I pray for him to be given the chance to answer the question, "What will it take to end the violence?"
3. Prayer for the international response. The international community is divided on how to respond to the situation in Syria. The questions at the heart of it are, "At what point ought the international community intervene in the Syrian conflict?" and "To what degree should that involvement be?" Right now, President Obama is agitating — both at home and abroad — for a limited strike against Syria as a specific response to the chemical weapons attack, arguing that the international community has long held to certain standards of acceptable and unacceptable behavior and that chemical weapons use crosses a line all have agreed not to cross.
When I pray for the international response, I pray for all means of dialogue and diplomacy to be exhausted before any military action is taken. I pray for those continued diplomatic efforts to make effective inroads in the conflict. I pray for leaders in the international community to be given the chance to sit down at the table of mediation with the Syrian regime and its rebels to ask the question, "What will it take to end the violence?" and to effectively mediate peace.
What does it mean for you to pray for peace in Syria?