Thursday, December 20, 2012

Please help me understand prayer

I believe in a Creator of the universe at least 95% of the time. (I admit to doubts some of the time – at different times of my life.) I believe this Creator, God, is unconditional Love and wants the best for each of us. What I’m less sure of is the Creator’s direct intercession in our measly day-to-day lives.

In the last week, I’ve received several prayer requests for persons I know but also a few of the ones that are the equivalent of email blackmail. (“If you send this on to 10 of your nearest and dear some lovely thing will happen 10 minutes after you hit ‘Send,’ but if you don’t do it, something horrible will happen.”) Plus, I’ve received a couple of reports that prayer has resulted in a healing or, at least, a temporary reprieve (remission). Believe me when I say I’m genuinely happy for any one and any family that does not have to face the loss of a deeply loved family member, and I’m happy to add my prayers to the legions who are praying for a particular person. But I do wonder.

I know many prayed for Brandon throughout his illness – for remission, for healing, for cure. His name was on the lips of many in prayer groups and on those of an extensive network of relatives and friends. There were literally legions around the globe remembering him daily in prayer. Did we/they do something wrong? Were there not enough of us? Does God only listen to the prayers of certain people? Does there have to be a certain number praying? Do they have to achieve a particular level of fervor?

What kind of God is that? That's not the God I can trust - not the God I can (or do) believe in. So I'm having difficulty contemplating the power/influence of intercessory prayer these days. Three of the four gospels have a variation of Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” These sentences seem to apply to intercessory prayer, but is this what they mean?

We asked (specifically). We sought (specifically). We not only knocked, we f’’n’g pounded on the f’n’g door. Last May when it was obvious that Brandon’s physical health was “declining” (what a genteel word), I f’n’g begged (again) to “let this cup pass” by Brandon and come to me instead. I begged to take Brandon’s place; I’d lived a fuller life, our children were adults, and Brandon had so much life yet to live with his wife and daughter.

Prayer is talking to God, the Creator, and that’s a step forward. Actually, I think life is a prayer/conversation with one’s Creator. Still, I must say the most prayerful moments for me have not been ones when I felt I was initiating a conversation with the Creator. Rather the most profoundly prayerful moments are ones in which I knew my Creator was reaching out to me, including an experience that happened within moments or minutes of Brandon’s birth. (I will definitely cover that experience in a future post.)

None of us gets out of this life alive – at least in the way we’re familiar with. And time in the overall universe means something quite different than the clock time we’re familiar with. So pardon my moi, but WTF is the meaning and possibly the point of intercessory prayer?

I do better when I think of prayer – and life on earth – differently. Reincarnation and a belief that each of us chooses a particular life based on issues we want to work on or a lesson we want to learn makes a lot of sense to me and did long before Brandon’s cancer was diagnosed. The idea that Brandon chose the challenge of a potentially lethal disease at a young age, that I perhaps wanted or needed to explore empathy through a child’s serious illness and/or death, and that others with close relationships to him chose related themes, is one of the more comforting concepts for me. Whether it is factual or not, I can’t say. Who am I to speak for God?  (I don’t claim to know whether reincarnation is factual any more than I can claim to know the mind of God. Just saying I put no limitations on a Creator and I’m open to reincarnation, as it makes as much sense as the beliefs I was brought up with.)

So it isn’t that I think prayer doesn’t matter – that it’s a bust. I’m trying hard, so very, very hard, to let go (not there yet), accept (not there yet) and truly mean (not there yet) "not my will but yours be done..." a phrase that I think I’m understanding more deeply and I believe is the crux of pretty much everything. But I’m having a very tough time contemplating the meaning of intercessory “Ask and it will be given you” prayer. (If you have an answer, a thought, a comment, etc. of what it means, I’m very open to whatever you write, but please post it as a comment here and NOT on my FB page.) 


  1. Karen, thank you for sharing such intimate thoughts and feelings. I can't imagine your pain.
    I've tried to respond to your questions about intercessory prayer, but nothing seems adequate. I only know that when I pray it brings me closer to God, who as my creator, loves me like no one else.

  2. Hi Karen - I'm so sorry for your continued struggle. I don't have the answer, but for me, it makes slightly more sense when I flip it around. Praying for people who sometimes make it (little Grace beating Leukemia) and who sometimes don't (my mom losing to blood cancer) gives ME comfort. I'm helpless to fix it, but this is something I can do. And putting positive energy & love into the Universe via a prayer can't be bad, regardless of end result. To that end, I'll say a prayer for your peace.

  3. Karen, I have no idea what to say. No words can do justice to what you're experiencing.

    I don't know if I ever told you about my prayerful experiences after my miscarriages and the early stages of Kasey's pregnancy. After my first miscarriage, I remember "bonding" with God as my Father in a way I had never done before. I was so numb and empty with feelings of guilt (what did I do wrong?), that I couldn't even think. I just "was." And I remember feeling as if God was just holding me, rocking me back and forth, soothing me. He was my Dad. And I think that was the first time I had truly felt that.

    And then there was my second miscarriage. It happened at exactly the same stage of pregnancy as the first one. Why was this happening to us again? Why allow me to get pregnant again to only take this child, too? Was this some big freaking joke? This time I remember being angry with Him. Really angry. And I let Him know it. But that emotion also brought me closer to Him as my Father. Because I knew that He wasn't upset with me for being mad. That happens in a Parent/child relationship. He allowed me to feel what I needed to feel, and He was there. Just there. He didn't let me know (and has never let me know) why these 2 miscarriages happened.

    Did I ever tell you that I named those 2 babies? My first miscarried baby's name is Mary Grace, and my 2nd miscarried baby's name is James. Those names just popped into my head, and I simply knew that they were these children's names.

    *****To be continued in another post since this one is too long*****

    1. ****Continued*****

      And then there's Kasey. Do you remember the afternoon I called you in a panic/sorrow to tell you that I was bleeding? I was at the same number of weeks gestation as I was with my miscarriages, and now it was happening all over again. And you calmly spoke to me and told me that there was nothing I did wrong and nothing I could do at that point.

      I went to my doctor's office the next day, and I remember laying on the table as he did an internal ultrasound. It's never good when your OB/GYN turns the ultrasound screen away from you so you can't see it. I just laid there and waited for him to say the words. And then he told me that the baby's heart rate was 1/3 of what it should be and that the sac was collapsing. And I remember that I asked him, "You mean the baby is in the process of dying?" And he said yes. And I laid there and felt the tears streaming down the side of my face and pooling in my ears. I thought the baby was already gone. I wasn't prepared for the news that my baby was dying.

      He told me that "everything" may take a while and that he didn't want me to go fly until everything was "over." I made an appointment for the next week so he could "track the progress" (he didn't use those words to me--he was actually very kind--but those are the words I heard in my head).

      After I left the office (after trying to compose myself so I wouldn't upset the expectant moms in the waiting room), I drove to St. Gertrude's. I was in a haze and just felt empty.....again. I don't remember if the Blessed Sacrament was exposed or not, but I prayed before It. Actually, I don't remember saying much in the beginning of my visit except for "Why are You doing this to me again?" Most of the time, I was silent. I couldn't even form a thought. I couldn't piece together any words. I could barely breathe. And then I simply asked Him to carry me through this. Because I couldn't do it again. I just couldn't. I prayed, "I don't know why You're doing this to me again, but You're going to have to carry me through this."

      The week went by with no further bleeding (the doctor had told me that I may not bleed again for another couple of weeks), and I walked into the exam room like a zombie. Was he going to tell me that my baby was dead? Or was my baby still dying? I laid back on the same table, he already had the screen positioned out of my eye sight, and he started the internal ultrasound. And the tears began to roll down the sides of my face again.

      And then I heard him go "Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm." The ultrasound ended, and he said to me, "Marti, I don't know how to tell you this but the baby's heart rate is exactly where it should be, and the baby's measuring exactly where it should be."

      For whatever reason, God interceded in that child's life. And her name is Katherine Mary. But we call her Kasey.

      I don't want to give the impression that I equate my loss with your loss. Your's is so much deeper, complex and consuming. I just wanted to give you an example out of my own life of intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer that I didn't know I prayed. Why did He intercede for Kasey and not with Mary Grace or James? I don't know and will probably never know in this lifetime. But I hold onto the miracle that is Kasey.

      Love you so much.

  4. You express so much of what I felt when my mother was dying at the young age of 53. There were hundreds of people praying for her, her faith was strong, we all believed she would be healed. And yet she was not. And now I am older than she ever was and have also lost two sisters in their 50s. While my sister Debra was dying, a friend recommended the book "Life After Death: The Burden of Proof" by Deepak Chopra. It has the same ideas you epressed, that perhaps we had chosen this path before we were born, that we were learning something from it. That made so much more sense to me than those who seemed to be implying that I hadn't prayed enough, that my faith or my mother's faith was lacking. I have never known anyone who believed as strongly as she did. I still pray for those who are sick and dying, for those in need. But I no longer expect a miracle, I'm sorry to say. I feel as if my heart has been broken. I have faith, but it is changed. I can't even imagine the pain of losing a child, even though I have known grief. I, too, believe that I will see my loved ones again, perhaps in a different life.

  5. Thanks to all for your responses. There is much food for thought and I truly appreciate it. I do believe all communication with the Creator/Love exerts a positive impact or energy throughout this universe. And I do believe that the Creator's/Love's greatest gift to us is free will and that free will is an important part of one's choices regarding lessons for a particular life, that moving forward in a positive rather than negative manner is mainly a choice - no matter what the circumstances, and that each of us has a right to feel to the core of her/his being but that feeling(s) may be different (a little or a lot) for each. Zinnias, a flower that will always cause me to think of my Grandma Ada, thank you for the book selection. It is now on my Kindle list! And I'm going to suggest a book for all in return... I'm still reading Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Into the Afterlife by "hard" science neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, M.D. about his meningitis-induced coma and his near-death experience (NDE) during that time. It's a worthwhile read.