It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Whether or not you watched Mister Rogers growing up, you can probably hear the all-too-familiar lyrics in your head. Fred Rogers touched more people than just his televised audience, curating his legacy that still continues long past his life on earth.
I only watched one episode of this renowned show personally. But the picture of a man wearing sweaters knitted by his mother and soft shoes that’d be quiet on set has cemented itself in my mind as a core memory.
Perhaps it was his welcoming smile, his complete patience, or his love for everyone he met that shone through the television. The show felt like being welcomed home after a long day. Rogers created a place of belonging for his audience and welcomed them in with open arms.
On both the television and in life, Mister Rogers lived out “Love thy neighbor as thyself” in everything he did. His tenderness reached far past his small set and deep into his daily routine.
Mister Rogers’s day would begin at five in the morning when he would take out his legal pad and slowly but deliberately offer up name after name in prayer before the feet of Jesus. The names weren’t random but included most of the people he had met in his life. If you shook hands with Fred Rogers, you would be prayed for the next day, and the next, and the next.
His prayers were not only for the people he met—they extended to their family members, crisis victims, criminals, and even those not living anymore. Rogers would offer up gratitude and prayer every morning for more people than most of us will ever pray for in our lifetime.
“When I asked for your prayers, I didn’t mean to be vague about the need”
—Fred Rogers, in a letter sent in Spring 1995
In the recent movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers. While the movie portrayed the beautiful disciplines and benevolence Rogers lived out everyday, the part that struck me the most wasn’t Rogers’s love for everyone with whom he interacted, nor his kind relationship with the reporter he formed a bond with, but a small scene that couldn’t have lasted for more than three minutes and a single sentence. A scene which depicted surrender, sacrifice, obedience, and the purest love.
The scene shows Mister Rogers as he dives into a pool. A voiceover recites names, both familiar to those viewing the movie and those familiar only to Rogers. The names aren’t followed with specific requests, as we tend to add in often, but simply offered up to God, fully surrendered, and trusted that the creator and protector will know what to do with them.
I had to catch myself before I started audibly sobbing after the scene.
Something about a humble Mister Rogers getting up every morning and presenting the people he loved to God modeled a raw and meaningful devotion—not only for the people Rogers prayed for, but also to God. Aren’t we supposed to simply offer our prayers and trust that God will do what is best for the people we love?
Recently, my prayer life has been dry and almost non-existent. I pray only when I absolutely cannot sleep. I go through a mental list of family members and their needs and, if I’m still awake after that, I throw in some of my friends. By the end of my last-ditch effort to finally drift to sleep, I might get through an average of five people. I offer up the same prayer every time, usually “God, I don’t really know what’s wrong with them, but bless them.” I often find myself stuck in a dead end when I pray, searching for some words to say to God in order to seem devout and caring but always falling short of expressing real needs. So why can’t I take a page out of our Friendly Neighbor’s book and simply offer the names up to God?
“And, I guess you know, each morning I pray for you; I really do”
The magic that Mr. Rogers created came from his unshakable devotion to God and the people in his life. We all strive to have a powerful prayer life, but often fall short of what we picture that to be. Prayer, just like our Bible studies, can become a repetitive routine. If we aren’t careful, it can devolve into a chore and a duty. But God didn’t design it for duty. He designed it to be a communion with the creator and a blessing to those whom we offer up in our most quiet times. God designed prayer as an act of love.
Fred Rogers demonstrated both discipline and devotion throughout his prayer life. I don’t know if he found saying hundreds of names every morning tedious, but I have a feeling he felt honored to know that many people and a strong sense of love for them that grew every time he opened up his legal pad.
Rogers was able to live a life that produced the fruits of the Spirit and blessed everyone he touched. The way he cared and modeled his life is perfectly summed up in the show’s theme song where he asks all of his audience, “Would you be my, could you be my, won’t you be my neighbor?”
Cover image by Ashley Edwards.
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