After going through a family health crisis recently, I’ve been struggling about prayer and its purpose in my life.
Anne Lamott said in Traveling Mercies that there are two basic prayers, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and “Help me, help me, help me!” It’s this second prayer about asking for God’s help that has stumped me the most lately. Don’t get me wrong, like many people when I need God’s help, I don’t hesitate asking. But it is still a mystery to me how it works.
When I was growing up I was taught that prayer changed God’s mind about stuff, and if we really meant it when we prayed, and had enough faith, we would get what we prayed for. And if you got lots of people to pray for the same outcome, all the better. It was as if God tallied the number of prayers being said, and when the magic number was reached (and none of us knew what that number was) it was like “Jackpot!” you got it.
In the last 10 days since our son’s accident, I have been praying the “THANK YOU!” and “HELP ME!” prayers a lot. I have been very thankful when friends called to tell me they were praying for our son and for our family. There was something about being thought of by others that has given me encouragement and hope. It’s a reminder to me that others love me and that makes a huge difference when you are feeling alone and vulnerable.
But I’ve also been thinking about the other people in the Emergency Room who possibly didn’t have anyone praying for them. Or those persons who did not know how to pray. Those who felt alone, isolated, or cut off from any higher power or love from others for that matter. And if that really matters to God in terms of God being with them. Personally, I believe God is with us whether we ask God to be present or not, whether we are aware of it or not. I believe God is present whether we are going through the “getting better” stage or the “getting worse” stage.
So I don’t have any final answers about what prayer means to me today. I seem to be more sure about what I believe prayer is not.
I do not believe that prayer is a gamble. I do not believe prayer is a slot machine where if you put in enough prayers you finally hit the jackpot. Some people play that game all of their lives and become bitter and spiritually bankrupt when their number never comes up.
I do believe that I feel love and hope from others when they tell me they are praying for me. I don’t know if prayer changes God or not, but it does change me. Maybe that is the real purpose of prayer? When I pray, or when others pray for me, my perspective on life shifts.
I don’t have this one figured out, it is a mystery to me. I have no tidy answer.
Pray for me. I will pray for you.
And let us both pray for those who have no one to pray for them. Pray they will know they are not alone.