One of the things I’ve missed most, during the last year, when we’ve been living in on-and-off lockdown, has been swimming. (You can read a tale that’s set at the swimming pool, in my blog posts here and here, if you’re interested.)

In pre-pandemic times, I would head to my local pool two or three times a week, and the regularity of my visits meant I often overlapped with the type of people my mum refers to as ‘familiar strangers’.

One of the ‘familiar strangers’ from my swimming pool days is an elderly lady called Rose. Well into her eighties, she is one of those stoical old women, who has seen a lot of life, and weathered a lot of storms – and we would often find ourselves in the changing room, at the same time, and have a little chat.

Just recently, while out on a lockdown lunchtime walk, I was delighted to stumble upon Rose. She was sitting on a bench, watching the world go by, a thermos flask perched by her side, a walking stick leaning against the end of the bench, and a tartan rug covering her knees.

I nearly didn’t notice her, but there’s something about walking pace that makes us all go slower, so I stopped awhile to find out how she’s faring.


On one occasion, when the swimming pool is open, Rose and I are in the changing room with two other women, and she is clearly hobbling in pain. So I ask her what is wrong.

“I’ve got arthritis and it’s made my joints seize up,” she tells me. “I’ve got a hip replacement operation coming up soon.”

I ask whether she is taking medication to ease the pain, and she nods. Then I ask whether she has ever prayed for God to take away the pain, and she shakes her head.

When the familiar surge of compassion and courage rise up within me, I know I have to pray for her – and I extend an offer, explaining that I am a Christian and I have seen God remove pain, and bring healing, in response to prayers offered in the name of Jesus.

“I wish I had your faith,” she says ruefully, “but I’m not even sure whether I believe God exists.”

“Why don’t you let me pray for you, now, while I’m with you, and then we can see?” I suggest, silently sending up arrow prayers, and not feeling as confident as I come across.

Reluctantly, Rose agrees, and I say a short prayer, out loud, asking Jesus to bless and comfort her, and to relieve the pain, remove the arthritis, and heal her hip – while she stares back at me with big blue eyes, scepticism written all over her face, which is framed by loose curls of silver-grey hair.

Even as I’m praying, I’m acutely aware of the two other women in the changing room with us. It’s hard not to feel awkward.

Nothing remarkable happens. She gives no indication of any change. But she politely thanks me.

I fight a sense of disappointment.

I also check in with her, whenever our paths cross. But I never find out how her hip replacement operation goes, because the small matter of a global pandemic decided to get in the way …


Struggling to place me, away from the context of the swimming pool, I re-introduce myself to Rose and hover, standing, at the opposite end of the bench from where she’s sitting, wrapped up in her tartan rug.

It doesn’t take long to get reacquainted – as ‘familiar strangers’.

“How’s your hip these days?” I ask her, “Did you manage to get it replaced before the pandemic?”

She tells me she did, and how happy she is with the new one; how the arthritis has stopped flaring up; how the pain has subsided … and then she says something that makes my heart sing.

“When I was in hospital, waiting for the anaesthetic, before I went into the operating theatre, I remembered how you said I could ask God to take away the pain,” she tells me. “I don’t know if I did it right, and I still don’t know if He actually exists, but I said a prayer, just in case, and I asked Him to take away the pain.” She pauses a moment, and then continues, “I also said the Lord’s Prayer, which I learnt by heart when I was a school girl.”

I burst into a smile, feeling really proud of her for trying. “Did anything happen, Rose?” I ask her.

“Not really,” she says. “But the surgeon told me that the operation went well, and they were pleased with the speed of my progress, given my age.”

“That’s really encouraging,” I remark, and then I think of something … “If God’s taken away your pain, I reckon He heard and responded to your prayer.”

She gazes into the middle distance, thoughtful for a moment, and then she nods in agreement. “I might even give it a go again,” she says, “this praying lark.” She turns to look at me, a twinkle in her eye. “Just in case,” she says.


How many of us have ‘familiar strangers’ in our every day lives? How many of them are in pain and suffering from conditions like arthritis? What if we paused long enough to pray for them? How many of them might be like Rose and suspend their doubts for long enough to give prayer a go – ‘just in case’? And how many times does God hear and respond to the simplest of pleas?

As ever, constructive comments are welcome, especially any reflections on these questions.

Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay



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