Pray Like a Champion
Excerpt from Lead Like Reagan – Principles of Dynamic Leadership
Photo Courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library
“I’ve always believed that we were, each of us, put here for a reason, that there is a plan, somehow a divine plan for all of us. I know now that whatever days are left to me belong to Him.”
– Ronald Reagan at the National Day of Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 1982.
I was reminded of my father when I came across this excerpt of Ronald Reagan’s radio address to the nation that he gave on Christmas Eve in 1983.
“The image of George Washington kneeling in prayer in the snow is one of the most famous in American history. He personified a people who knew it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness; they must also seek help from God, their Father and Preserver.”
One of my earliest recollections of my father, James Scanlon, was when I woke up to find myself slung over his shoulder, halfway up the staircase. I had fallen asleep that night on the couch watching television and he was carrying me up to bed. I vividly remember that feeling of being very high up in the air. I then closed my eyes and fell back to sleep, knowing that I was in good hands.
Dad always reminded me of the heroes on television that some of you might remember; characters like Joe Mannix, Steve McGarrett, and Sherriff Andy Taylor. Like them, Dad was honest, honorable, hardworking, fair, and loyal; he was truly an American man. I thought, “That must be what it is like to be an adult.” Little did I know at the time, just how rare those qualities are.
You can then imagine the impact it made on me, when I would look into my parent’s bedroom and see Dad on his knees, praying to God. Watching my hero humble himself to God, made me consider how great God must be. It put into its proper perspective God’s place, and Dad’s place, and subsequently, my place in the world. Relating back to an earlier topic in this book, Dad certainly conveyed a non-verbal expression that influenced my view of the world.
From the Ballys of Ireland
Like my dad, Reagan’s father, John Edward “Jack” Reagan, was an Irish Catholic whose forebears came to America from a small town in Ireland during the potato famine (the Reagans came from Ballyporeen and the Scanlons from Ballylongford). Jack Reagan taught his son, Ronald, the value of hard work. And Ronald Reagan described his father’s gift of gab in legendary terms: “No one I ever met could tell a story better than he could.”
But it was his mother, Nelle Wilson Reagan, a member of the Disciples of Christ, of whom Reagan said, “From my mother, I learned the value of prayer, how to have dreams and believe I could make them come true.”
Nelle Wilson Reagan’s Bible
It was her Bible upon which he placed his hand to take the oath of office in January of 1981.
“As I took my place, the sun burst through the clouds in an explosion of warmth and light. I felt its heat on my face as I took the oath of office with my hand on my mother’s Bible opened to the seventh chapter, fourteenth verse of Second Chronicles: ‘If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.’ Next to these words from my mother – God rest her soul – had written: ‘A most wonderful verse for the healing of the nations.’”
Reagan went on to mention God five times that day (he would do so eight more times, four years later, in his 2nd Inaugural Address).
Describing his feelings that very evening when he first peeked into the Oval Office, Reagan said, “I felt a weight come down on my shoulders, and I said a prayer asking God’s help in my new job.”
Reagan prayed throughout his entire life. As a child, Reagan prayed side by side with his neighbors. As president, he prayed that he would not let down his supporters.
In the hospital, praying for his would-be assassin
Reagan also prayed as he lay on his back on a gurney in George Washington Hospital, after being shot in the chest and barely able to breath. He prayed for himself. He prayed for Jim Brady, his press secretary, as Brady was being wheeled into an operation that he was not expected to survive. And it should come as no surprise that Reagan prayed for Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and policeman Tom Delehanty, both of whom had been shot. What might come as a surprise is that, at the same time, he prayed for the shooter, John Hinckley Jr.
“I didn’t feel I could ask God’s help to heal Jim, the others, and myself, and at the same time feel hatred for the man who shot us, so I silently asked God to help him deal with whatever demons had led him to shoot us.”
Reagan prayed frequently towards the end of his first year in the White House, for the country, for those who were unemployed, and for help and guidance.
Reagan prayed with the family of those lost on the Challenger.
And, when Mrs. Reagan fought her battle with breast cancer, Ronald Reagan, feeling humbled and helpless knowing that human limitations pertain even to the president of the United States, prayed for her.
In short, Reagan did not set aside a part of his life for prayer. Instead, he opened up his entire life to prayer.
And people prayed for Reagan. In his autobiography, An American Life, Reagan describes a conversation he had as Governor with one of his constituents from California. “As he was leaving my office, he turned around and said, ‘Governor, you might like to know that I’m part of a group of people who meet every day and pray for you.’ I was taken aback by what he said, but thanked him and said I also put a lot of stock in the power of prayer.”
Rancho del Cielo
Reagan’s favorite place in the world was his Rancho del Cielo (Spanish for “Ranch in the Sky”). Reagan called it his open cathedral in the sky, according to Retired U.S. Secret Service agent, John R. Barletta, author of Riding With Reagan.
Agent Barletta was assigned to protect Reagan, while riding horses with him. “Reagan had looked to nature for solace and strength, and he would retreat to the wonderment of the outdoors whenever he needed to sort things out and make decisions.”
In his book, Barletta describes Reagan as “a profoundly spiritual person.”
“He saw a natural order to things, an order designed by the Creator. ‘This is God’s plan,’ he would say about the rhythm of nature. ‘It’s not man’s plan.’”
“…When we were out riding, he would sometimes quote the Bible and talk to me about it.” Barletta says. “He truly believed that God worked through history.”
Barletta also writes this about Reagan:
“He’d talk so calmly about God. He truly believed after the assassination attempt, God had a plan for him.”
“He said, ‘God thought – Well, God doesn’t think, God knew that I needed a nudge. God wanted that assassination attempt to happen. He gave me a wake-up call. Everything I do from now on, I owe to God. He wanted everything to happen to me – except what you did to my suit.’ He complained for years that we had cut off his brand new suit to save his life. He had worn it only once.”
“A belief that prayers are answered.”
Throughout the years, many people have interpreted Thomas Jefferson’s written sentiment regarding a separation of Church and State. For his part, however, Ronald Reagan made it very clear in his words and his actions that Americans should never mean it to say that there should be a separation of God from the American people.
Reagan was very public in his discussion of prayer. In the first Presidential Debate while running for re-election, Reagan said, “… I have, thanks to my mother, God rest her soul, the firmest possible belief and faith in God.” He also said, “And as I say, I don’t believe that I could carry on unless I had a belief in a higher authority and a belief that prayers are answered.”
Sometimes it seems as if the further we get away from the positive outcome of an event upon which we prayed, the less likely we are to attribute our good fortune to our prayers. Initially, we might credit a good outcome to “answered prayers”, but as time passes, the credit often shifts to a skillful surgeon, coincidence, or even to luck. However, Reagan’s belief that everything in his life was all part of God’s plan never faded with time. And many of his writings suggest that he would have agreed with country artist Brad Paisley when he sings about how sometimes the answer to prayer is no. However, continue to pray we should, said Reagan when he signed the National Day of Prayer amendment which observes the day of prayer on the first Thursday of every May.
Hoping the grandkids are watching
I am sorry to say that I have not always followed my father’s lead as an adult. Regrettably, I have often left my time of prayer to God for the end of the day, when I am most tired. Our kids are grown now, and so any example of praying on my knees is an opportunity lost. But, researching this book has inspired me to make a change. As long as the knees will hold up, I will use them to pray, and hope the grandkids are watching.