Driving Me Crazy — Through Prayer

I have a family member who is currently in the hospital and has been for the past 3 weeks or so. His niece, who visits him everyday, keeps the rest of the family informed with a daily email. Now let me say, she is wonderful and is doing a great job. I and the rest of the family are lucky to have her, and all of this has been a great weight for her to bare. But there’s something about those emails that is making me a little bit insane.

When he first went into the hospital, the niece included a standard “pray for him” request. Okay no problem. Then everything went smashingly well, he came through surgery great and the prognosis was good. Her email included a quip, “I guess the prayers worked!” Again, okay, but I was thinking, shouldn’t we give a little credit to the doctors too?

Then her uncle got an infection and went down hill rapidly. With each day the emails included lines like, “keep praying,” and “we really need your prayers now.” Then he started to get better: “Our prayers worked!” trumpeted the following email… and this addition, “Pray harder so he keeps getting better!” Which he did, briefly. But then his condition slipped, the niece’s advice, “Pray harder!” Finally, he is now making progress again — you can probably guess what the last email said, “Our prayers are working, keep praying!”

(begin rant)
Oh sweet baby jesus, the prayers are not working, girl! Prayers don’t work. They just don’t. Haven’t you read The God Delusion? Don’t you know that repeated and well-funded studies into the efficacy of prayer have shown there is no efficacy whatsoever!? If prayers worked, then more “devout” nations would have longer life expectancies, fewer illnesses, and quicker recovery times (since health and healing are what people pray for most) — but godless Japan and Sweden are near the top of the life-expectancy list, and where is prayer-heavy America? It’s forty-fifth! And where is life expectancy longest in the US? Well, it ain’t in the thick of the Bible Belt, I can tell you that!

Oh wait, maybe we are praying to the wrong god? How do Muslims fair? Well (and I’m sure this will please religious Americans), the first predominately Muslim country on the list is little, progressive Kuwait… and it’s 53rd! — take that Allah!

I mean, prayer doesn’t even work for Popes! They’re not any healthier or live any longer than the general public, and yet they receive gazillions of prayers each day! Christ, if praying didn’t help John Paul II, it’s not going to help your uncle!
(end rant)

Of course she doesn’t know all that, nor does she care. And even if I told her, she wouldn’t believe me. I also know this whole prayer business is an expression of her desperate need to affect a situation in which she has no control. And I know that praying likely gives her a sense of purpose and makes her feel more involved in the healing process. So I shouldn’t care what she writes in her emails, and I certainly shouldn’t take the time to blog about it, right? So why am I? 

For two reasons — first, I can see she’s got her head so full of this prayer stuff that when he get’s better it will only reinforce her view that her god did it, that her god is the true god, and that people that don’t pray or believe in her god are “missing the big picture.” She will feel a little pity for those without faith, and she will “just know” that her prayers helped to save her uncle’s life.

Second, if “god-forbid” he doesn’t get better, I wonder if she will feel somehow responsible? Will a certain sadness creep into her consciousness when she thinks of him, and will she shoulder blame for her inabilty to appease her god through prayer? Well, probably not… but maybe she will… and I would hate for that to happen.

8 Responses

  1. Do you think that the “Keep your praryers acoming” bullshit is anything like the idea that every political speech has to pay lip service to the masses with a big ol’ “God Bless America”. I have a theory that when someone tells you they’ll pray for whatever shit they wanna help you through,asking for your prayers, whatever the case may be…these prayers don’t extend farther than the thought of praying. Like if you say the words “I’ll pray for you” you don’t have to do any more than that because this Omnipotent God of theirs just heard the “p” word and jumped into your thoughts, knows what you want to do and why you wanna do it and so all you have to do is think “pray” and the deed is done. Of course it’s a theory and I’m probably wrong because I’m incredibly jaded these days. There’s no real way to test my theory because if I tried to ask the prayers if they really are down on hands and knees imploring God to step in I’m sure these people would either a) LIE and tell me they were becasue they wouldn’t want to be found out or b) be insulted beyond ability to speak the truth.

    In any case, as a child I was made to be on bended knee every night before bed speaking the prayers out loud. Then all of a sudden it seemed like mom and dad didn’t care if I did or not and I wasn’t going to get into trouble for not doing it so I stopped. If the prayer is so powerful why wouldn’t I have been forced or encouraged to continue?

  2. I guess we all have those people in our lives. I kind of just let it go for the most part b/c I have learned you arent going to change thier beliefs (although they will pray for you after the discussion, so you will have that going for you).
    1. if things work out ok it will be a direct result of prayer. Like you said, forget the medicine and doctors.(if/when I have my first heart attack we are hanging out, please take me to the hospital, not a church)
    2. if things dont work out, it will be “gods will” or “part of his plan” or something like that.
    Basically there is already a built in escape clause for whatever happens, THATS religon.

  3. had to get back on to put this up. awesome

    TEL AVIV – Will prayer help deliver world markets? If around 2,500 Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel have anything to say about it, hope may be on the way.

    Concerned about the health of the global economy, Jews in 11 major seminaries across Israel prayed Thursday night for a fast resolution to the world’s financial crisis – and for Jews who contribute to Israel’s cash-strapped yeshivas.

    The religious schools rely heavily on donations from American philanthropists, and consequently, the seminaries have started feeling the pinch from the crash of world markets and the weakening of the U.S. dollar.

  4. delicious…

  5. “Don’t you know that repeated and well-funded studies into the efficacy of prayer have shown there is no efficacy whatsoever!? ” This makes me howl with laughter when I think that this rhetorical question is being directed, in part, to that group of people that have decided that they don’t believe in evolution.

    A friend of mine and I were talking about the first time we started to have doubts about this whole Jesus thing. Mine was Waco. If David Koresh was determined crazy and his followers a cult based on the idea that he was a prophet or Messiah, then how is that any different than a bunch of crazy ass people believing the same speil from a dude from Nazareth?

  6. that stuff makes me rabid-crazy too. i’ve never figured out how to broach the issue w/out being totally off-putting. so I ignore and ignore … but i’m sure someday that bubble will burst in a heated moment. me being me, that is.

    but honestly, why would you “hate for that to happen?” even mother theresa had her “dark night of the soul.” why shouldn’t your cousin be faced w/ an enduring, ubiquitous human problem? learning to live w/ disappointment/unanswered questions are at the heart of human experience. and learning to live w/out neat answers sometimes makes one more compassionate toward fellow human travelers. isn’t that your overarching purpose of this very here truth blog?

    hundreds of dedicated spiritual philosphers, saints and leaders would tell you the same–all who had crises of faith.

    and i’d also add, while i’m not inclined to embrace prayer these days, i did hear an explanation that i liked for what it should be. it’s not supposed to be a request line or even a question. rather, it should be an emptying or transformation of Self. to make one worthy and capable of meeting life where it is. not where we fantasize it should be. whether you’re a Believer or not, i think there’s some valid Psychology in just that.

  7. Interesting thoughts… to the first one first — I’d say that it is guilt that I wish her (everyone) to avoid. I find it to be such an unproductive and depressing emotion! But I hear you on the whole “questioning” aspect of a failed prayer, and, yeah, that ain’t such a bad thing…

    On your second point about transformation of Self… i mean, okay, sure… if that’s what the pray-er considers prayer to be, or that is the sort of effort they are making, it sounds all well and good… but i suspect for most people it is not “an emptying or transformation of Self. to make one worthy and capable of meeting life where it is. not where we fantasize it should be.”

    I suspect that for many their prayers are exactly the expression of a fantasy, or at most, a desire to change what “naturally” is… that’s why “pray for a miracle” is such a common phrase, no?

  8. o, yes. i agree for most it’s that age old request line. but the wisest leaders among those who do pray [of all faiths] say that’s not really what it’s for. [that’s why i get so insane about those email requests.]

    so maybe failed prayers CAN become [and i’m definitely not saying they will] a lesson about becoming the transformation in which we seek. but they’re not the only route to that lesson, i might add.

    `I s’pose it’s a matter of thinking whether humans hold any cards/responsibility in matters of this world, or not. but if prayer is simply asking for a wave of the cosmic magic wand then, of course, i don’t see how it helps.

    but that’s just me … or … you … or us Truthy peeps.

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