Thoughts on Prayer #3: What Do I Expect From Prayer?
A few weeks ago, a friend posted on her Facebook page that her husband had been laid off. There were several comments under her post, many of which said something along the lines of “We’ll pray for you.” I wanted to respond, but felt that an offer of prayer was insufficient on my part. I didn’t understand why I felt that way. What’s wrong with praying for someone when something bad happens?
I realized that I often use praying for someone as an excuse to do nothing else for them. I feel that if I pray for them, that is all I have to do. I’ve expressed my concern, and handed the problem over to God so I don’t need to worry anymore. his makes me sad. I use prayer as an excuse to pass the problem off without feeling bad about it. And I feel great shame for doing so, because if God was going to solve every problem we had, why would I need to exist in communities, families, friendships? If God was going to fix everything, why did I need to exist on this earth in the first place? We exist together, so I must be able to take care of others in some ways. So why do I hand problems off to God and expect them to be solved without my doing anything? (This may well be an example of my misunderstanding of prayer, but it’s how I feel about it.)
So now I try to ask myself, “What else can I do? I know I can’t fix the whole problem, but what can I do to help solve part of the problem? What needs will this problem create?” For example, I didn’t know of any job openings for my husband’s friend. But I did know a few ways to make some extra cash doing online surveys. So I sent her the links and advice on how to be successful with them. I couldn’t fix the whole problem, but I could provide information that might help them make ends meet, as it had for me and my husband at one point. It turned out to be a moot point, as her husband was rehired a few days later. But I learned something from the experience. I learned that often I can help solve part of the problem, that I can’t expect God to fix everything. I found that trying to help was empowering, whereas praying had sometimes made me feel useless.
I will readily acknowledge that there are times when all we can do for someone is pray. There are problems we literally can’t help with, there are distances we can’t cross to help,
there are financial, physical, emotional situations we need to consider, and times when prayer is simply what we have to offer. We pray to express our concern, to show God and others we care, to create a sense of community for those who are suffering. And great good comes from the love and support of those praying. For all I know, prayers change the will of God.
There have been instances in my life where I have found comfort in knowing others are praying for me. There have also been times when I’ve heard I’m being prayed for, but what I really needed was someone to call me, or to express their concern to me, not just to God. There have been times I’ve wanted to ask people to stop praying for me and help me.
I believe prayer is a powerful expression of love and concern that can help others feel supported and make difficult times easier. I also believe that there is generally something I can do along with prayer. Of course that depends on the circumstances, my own abilities and situation, etc. But I feel better asking “What else can I do?” as I pray. I don’t wish to sound judgmental or make others feel guilty. Everyone’s experiences are different and lead them to different actions and conclusion. My experience has led me to this, and I thought it would be interesting to share.