Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thoughts On Prayer

Lately I've been reading through some of my unpublished blog drafts from the past few years, deleting some, wondering why I never published some, and musing on some of the more pensive ones. I think I know why I never published this particular one; it seemed too personal and too incompletely formulated at the time.

I no longer feel worried about having written it... it's just thoughts of a girl from almost three years ago. I don't even know if it's what I think or feel on the matter now, but nonetheless, I find my former thoughts interesting. [Maybe only to me.]

Written on June 19 of 2008, shortly before the death of my beloved Grandpa:

Sometimes I think that in my family we are always waiting for the next medical bomb to drop. In this state we are happy and content, but also a tiny bit tensed, like your arms when you know something heavy is about to fall into them. There are my Dad's ongoing health problems, then my Mom's brain aneurysm, then my Dad's diagnosis with a degenerative muscle condition, and of course my own small unsolved health problems.

When my Mom had a brain aneurysm a year and a half ago, I found myself occasionally too numb to actually pray; tired of repeating the words, "Please, God, please, God, please, God," the thoughts coming so fast they tripped over one another. And at times I had no knowledge of whether the prayers made a difference.

Of course, they did make a difference. But in those days I found myself thinking a lot about the purpose of prayer. I knew the basics; I was not so naive as to think that because we pleaded for Mom to recover, she would. I did not think that hope, or faith, or trust would automatically bring about Mom's full recovery. When other Christians said to me, "I know your Mom will recover fully, because we are in constant prayer for her," the words seemed trite and almost made me angry. One only has to read the headlines each day to know that prayer does not effect immediate healing, recovery, safety, and health for everyone.

As it happens, my Mom did live, and is making a wonderful recovery. I believe that God heard our prayers, and I believe that He cares about every person in the world, as overwhelming as that is. But I also believe that Mom could very well have died, and that if that had happened, I would have needed to find a way to continue to believe that God cared and that His nature had not changed. God is no less Himself in the midst of suffering or grief. I cannot say that God answers prayer because my Mom lives and turn a blind eye to the friend whose parent died, the friend whose mother has cancer, or the family members who have suffered from disease and looked death in the face.

What I believe about prayer is simple, and perhaps many Christians would say it is wrong. But it is what makes sense to me in light of a God who promises to reward faith, trust, and hope; a God who says He is with us to the very end; a God who allows suffering and does not always "answer" our heartfelt prayers with anything close to understandable.

Prayer is, perhaps, mostly for us. Prayer doesn't do God any good, although He loves for us to pray and to be in fellowship with Him. He would still be God if we never prayed, would still allow suffering to take place, and, sometimes, effect healing.

As it is, we do pray, and whether it "changes God's mind," or "was always a part of His plan," or has no effect whatsoever - those are questions far beyond the grasp of a poor pilgrim such as myself. Perhaps God's sovereign plan is carved in stone, or perhaps He can indeed be moved to the action of healing by the pleas of His children. What I know is that prayer changes me, and I wouldn't be surprised if that were the point of it all. When I prayed, "God, heal my Mom. But not my will, but Thine be done, O Lord," I didn't need to say that because I knew that God's will would be done, and that everything was completely and terrifyingly out of my hands. But the more I said that, the more my will became conformed to the possibility of a future that wasn't what I wanted or thought was best, but a future that was still held in the hand of an omnipotent God who would still love me. When I prayed, I entered into God's presence and could experience His peace. The benefit of prayer was not that God granted a specific request - although, in the end, my Mom came out of her coma and began a process of healing - it was the praying itself that met my most basic need: the need to be in communion with my heavenly Father.

In this sense, God answers all our prayers in the very moment that we pray, because in that instant the purpose of prayer is fulfilled as we are drawn into the presence of the Lord through the blood of the Son and the intervention of the Holy Spirit. As I pray, "Heavenly Father, comfort my friend..." I gain a deepened sense of compassion myself. If I pray that I might be a better wife, daughter, sister, friend, perhaps I am already becoming such by my earnest desire and the action of praying. How could time in God's presence not serve to better a person and make her more Christ-like?

And whatever we're praying for, whether it's a six-year-old's yearning for a bike or a twenty-three-year-old's yearning for a mother to recover fully, it's really, beneath that, a yearning that we might have life, and might have joy, and might have it abundantly. And THAT, we have already been assured, God will grant to each of us in truly unique and eternal ways.


So I asked today, as I do so frequently these days, "Lord, thank you that I could see him again. Please take him home soon, and release him from his suffering." But I knew that it might be soon and with minimal suffering, or it might be long and with much. We are told that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but I am righteous only through the shining pureness of Christ, and common sense and the history of mankind both remind me that many more righteous than I have not had their prayers answered in ways they might have hoped for. What I do know is that by speaking that prayer, the purpose of prayer was fulfilled as I entered God's presence. And, more importantly, perhaps the man I prayed for also speaks a feeble prayer as he knows he will soon see God face to face. In doing so, he spends a moment in God's presence, and becomes that much more fit for eternity.

Grandpa died on June 24, 2008. Oh, what a difficult summer that was - the first death I experienced in my family, and someone I was so close to and loved so much. And now, three years later, I still find myself thinking of things I wish I could ask him, or tell him, or talk about with him. I miss him.