An alternate title to this blog is My (Brief) Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers.
For once this blog will be fairly short, but I was thinking back on my mom's death and related it to a book I just finished reading, "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People."
It got me thinking on the way we talk about thoughts and prayers, and I wanted to caution people to shift how they talk about prayers, especially around people suffering and grieving and especially around little kids.
A Story On How the Way We Can Speak About Prayers Can Cause Anger and Guilt to Some
As soon as I got the call from my dad that my mom had a brain bleed and was in a coma, I texted my friends and family and asked for prayers.
Those prayers and knowing that everyone was collectively thinking of our family helped get me through the next 24 hours, the worst of my life.
Those prayers helped me get through the death of my mom, the funeral, and all the days afterward as I still intensely grieve.
It wasn't until I went home to WV to the funeral that I really starting thinking about prayers and the way we speak about them when someone is suffering or gets sick.
While home I overheard a conversation at the funeral of someone speaking how all the prayers for a family member of hers were working to help make the person who is sick better. Wonderful news!
But if I hadn't long ago shifted my thoughts on prayers, I might have had more bitter and angry thoughts as I stood next to my mom's body.
"Well, why didn't all the prayers for my mom heal her?"
"I must not have prayed hard enough."
"I must not have gotten enough people to pray for her."
"I guess God doesn't like me or my mom enough."
Now imagine in this scenario that I was a little girl standing next to her deceased mom who was sick. Or maybe I was instead a little boy whose little brother is dying from cancer.
If this child hears that someone else's prayers to God cured this stranger's loved one but not her/his own loved one, and no adult is there to explain this conversation to him/her, their relationship with God might be forever changed.
They might have intense guilt. "I was tired that one night before bed and forgot to pray. Maybe that's why my mom died. This is all my fault."
They might have anger. "God doesn't love my family enough. Why should I love Him back?"
They might have fear. "God must be punishing me and our family because He doesn't like us as much as He likes this other family. What else will He do to us?"
I can imagine moving forward this child might have a very complicated, shaky relationship with God if things don't get cleared up quickly.
And in this scenario we could substitute the child for anyone who might already be questioning God.
A Shift in the Way We Think About Prayer
I have long stopped crediting prayers for a specific outcome beyond our control.
A prayer to God asking for the results of a cancer biopsy won't change the results because the results are already known. The same with prayers stopping natural disasters.
Imagine two families praying for a tornado to not destroy their neighborhood. One child's home and neighborhood are spared. The other child's house is demolished and friends and family members are killed.
The one family whose home remains intact praises God for answering their prayers and saving their family. The child goes to school and says how it's because of their prayers to God that kept them safe. The other child whose home was destroyed and whose loved ones lost their lives overhears this. How does this make her feel?
I don't believe that God chooses to cure and spare some people while allowing other people, including and especially kids, to suffer and die.
I don't believe He works that way.
I think He is always on the side of the sufferer.
No, instead when I asked for prayers I took great comfort in knowing that I wasn't alone through all this.
I think that's the power of prayer. That we are not alone.
We pray for strength to help us with all the hard times.
We pray that God doesn't harden our hearts to the world.
We pray for patience as we deal with our suffering.
We pray for gratitude to help us remember all the blessings we still have.
We pray for the courage to continue to face the world amongst all our suffering.
We pray for comfort for when the pain gets unbearable.
We pray for hope that one day our suffering will end and that we will see the person we love again in Heaven.
That's the shift in praying that I think we all need.
When I was pregnant I wrote this article for a magazine, and I think this excerpt taken from it is more poignant and relevant than ever....
I was at an all time low in the pregnancy. The morning sickness had reached its peak. My stomach hurt. My head ached. I was beyond tired. I had thrown up multiple times. I was feeling what I imagine to be heartburn or something brewing in my lower chest. My appetite was pretty nonexistent. Week 10 was definitely the worst. I was feeling sorry for myself and having thoughts like If I can't even deal with being sick, how am I going to be a mom? There is so much worse happening in the world, and I am complaining about this. I feel so weak. How do other women do this? I can barely cope, and I don't even have to work. What's wrong with me? While those thoughts were milling around in the back of my head, something happened that began to change my perspective.
I have always been a big believer in the positive power of prayer. No, I do not think praying will stop bad things from happening. Bad things will still always happen. I do, though, believe prayer will change the way we view, perceive, and look at bad things. The more we pray, the more we can gain positive control of a situation rather than slipping into despair.
So there I was at the airport throwing the ultimate pity party for myself and silently weeping over how I could possibly endure any more weeks of feeling this way. The negative thinking was spinning out of control. That was until I sat down on a random seat in the airport and felt something underneath me. I pulled the object out from under me, and it was a rosary. I teared up, stuck the rosary in my purse, and began to pray and pray and pray until slowly my mind started shifting.
I would love to say that the sickness miraculously disappeared, but it didn't. In fact, it got slightly worse, for when I arrived home after the flight, I puked violently three times.
But instead I received something better - the clarity that suffering is a part of life, and there is something meaningful at the end of it...
The same thing happened the other week. I was again having the ultimate pity party for myself and weeping from the pain of missing my mom so much.
I remembered what they said in my grief support group. Pray. Not pray to take away the pain and suffering but pray for a little bit of comfort in your time of sorrow.
In my haste to leave the house, I grabbed an old purse from the shelf. In it I found three things that instantly brought me comfort and a slight smile to my face.
My mom loved praying the rosary, so I took the manual and the rosary and drove to church to pray.
The prayers will never take away the pain I have from missing my mom, but they give me comfort when I get tired from mourning. They give me strength when I feel weak. They give me calls and texts from family and friends when I feel alone. They give me the clarity to see the beauty of a butterfly floating by or a flower blooming when everything seems dark.
They give me hope.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on prayers...