Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You Didn't Pray for Me

Writing has slowed down for me somewhat because I'm more accepting of my unanswered questions and less certain that I'll arrive at answers. I don't spend as much time reading and pondering the nature of God. I've spent a fair amount of time recently learning the new skill of couponing. I've spent numerous hours on blogs dedicated to couponing and bargain shopping and I've made some significant headway.

However, I do need to give attention to a spiritual matter that directly affects our sons. And the matter is prayer. This is something I have largely given up on because I don't really believe that whoever or whatever I pray to is going to answer or react in any way. I don't see prayer changing anything by affecting God's behavior. Now that is not to say that I don't believe prayer can have a significant affect on the petitioner. In fact, I believe that prayer does affect our attitudes and heart when we pray. This has renewed my interest in pursuing meditation more diligently, as I think the same effects are likely achieved without the requisite belief in a God who is listening to our every prayer and responding.

Out of force of habit, I suppose, we pray as a family before meals when we eat together. One night, a couple of weeks ago, my husband led a prayer before dinner, a fairly quick and perfunctory one. My youngest son was sick with bronchitis. After the prayer, my son immediately said, "You didn't pray for me to get better." He wanted this prayer, so my husband prayed for his health. It meant a great deal to both my boys, who actually sat very still and quietly during the second prayer, as opposed to trying to sneak a bite or glancing at the other brother to catch him in the act of eating.  I felt guilt over this omission and wondered if the boys thought we weren't concerned enough about our son's health.

In the Christian community, prayer is a primary way of communicating concern for another. And of course, if you believe prayer can change the actions of God, it is a way to improve the outcomes for others. My husband and I are raising our children in this culture, so it's no surprise they are developing this understanding of prayer.  I do believe it's a valuable practice, whether or not anyone hears the prayer, but it's just so hard for me to do. I feel a need to come to some sort of way of approaching this practice, especially in the context of my family. And given that I still feel a bit on the fence about my beliefs as does my husband, it's a challenge to know what to teach our children. So, that's my current conundrum. Any thoughts?   


  1. You know what? I think my icy heart is slowly starting to melt. I understand so well what you are writing about. Maybe cold logic isn't everything. We are emotional creatures and I think that must be taken into consideration.

  2. I agree with DougB. We use our logic and our reason to try to reach conclusions about life and the nature of our existence. Then we put our emotions on the back-burner and try to pretend they don't matter, that they are useless, and that they aren't reliable. Does it really matter, though? I mean our emotions are part of who we are, part of our personalities. So to try to deny them is to deny ourselves. We can never be entirely logical and rational just as we cannot be entirely emotional. At some point we must feed our emotional side. If that is through prayer or meditation what harm is there in that? I can think of none as long as we're not waiting on some invisible force to come and fix things for us.

    I think at this point I prefer meditation to prayer. Maybe they're the same things, but I doubt it. Like you I find it almost impossible to pray to a person to no avail. But sitting in quiet reflection, allowing my mind to clear out the junk, thinking on the important things...I find much value in that.

  3. I don't know if there is a truly "right" way to deal with your situation, but I think a prayer at dinner is just fine.

    I've heard one school of thought on more aggressive (for lack of a better term) prayer, where every day the prayer leader would ask God for specific help for each family member. In a way, you can see how this would be one more way to show your children and your spouse that you love them and you care about their lives. This does seem like it may be a little too much for your situation though, and I'm guessing you have no problems communicating love to your family in other ways. :-)

    If one of your boys protests an accidental exclusion from your or your husband's prayer again, you do have a safety net:

    Romans 8:26
    "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." NIV

  4. Doug, I knew you weren't cold hearted! :)

    D'Ma, I do think you have a good question about what the harm might be. I do agree that it's a problem if it causes someone to sit back and take no part in improving the situation. It can also cause people to believe they or others deserve what comes their way if God is causing everything to happen. It can also cause bitter disapointment if God doesn't change something they assumed he would change. I really don't want to teach my kids that praying to God is like asking Santa for toys at Christmas that they'll invariably get. I do need to actively teach something or they'll absorb whatever they are taught at church, which may be some of the above.

    I have thought of a more UU way of doing prayer, where we light candles at dinner each night for each concern or praise that everyone has. I think it would keep the boys interested because it involves fire :) I like that you had a scripture quote. :)

  5. We have wrestled with this for years in our healing ministry group. We have not ever answered it fully.
    Do we change God by requests? Is it really a good idea for God to listen to us? We are such limited beings and, it is true, that bad things can produce good results and good things produce bad results. My approach is to assume petition/intercession is way down the list when praying. Prayer is more about listening than talking. It is more about trusting, apologizing and thanking than asking. But, requests are part of it. If one does not ask it behaviorally reinforces the idea that God does not care about our needs. Too many references to God responding to His people to think that is true. Also know He is rarely in a hurry to answer prayers. Sometimes waiting a generation to act. Jesus told us to do it. It is a part of the tradition and in most worship. Lots of reasons to assume we should. And it resonates with something in your kids. a mystery?

  6. Hi,
    Regarding D'Ma's comment on meditation versus prayer; I just thought I'd throw out there that there is a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church of a meditation which is also considered a prayer... The Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner; there are variations on this) is repeated a number of times and turns out to have the same effect as a meditative mantra. I've actually tried this and find that it does clear out my mind and brings a certain level of peace in my heart. I don't know how useful this is going to be... but I recently was thinking that perhaps prayer is not so much trying to get God to change things as much as it's about helping us to deal with the situation as it is. Just mulling....

    1. I really do think that's all prayer/meditation amounts to. Regardless of the passages of scripture which tell us that "prayer changes things" I believe that it changes us more. So whether you pray to a deity or meditate it has the same effect. It's getting our minds "right" about whatever circumstance we're praying about. I haven't noticed that my praying ever made a discernible difference in any matter I was dealing with. The only change was my attitude about it.

  7. Testing the comment system. Tried commenting when you first posted this blog but though I tried over a few days it wouldn't work. So, just testing. :-)

  8. Hi, just a brief late comment .....

    I believe prayer really does change things ..... sometimes. I think God has given us a fair degree of autonomy over our lives, but we can ask him to take a more active role if we want to. Without asking, he may interfere anyway, even if we ask, he may not act in any obvious way, but often enough (in my experience) prayer makes a genuine difference.

    Since I don't know what God may or may not do, my wife and I pray for each other, our family and friends every morning. Life's good (mostly).