Why Did I Pray for Emily?

Dear Lord, please be with Emily during her operation. Please be with her doctors, and nurses, and everybody connected with her operation, and see that it all goes perfectly well, and that Emily is completely healed.

That’s part of a prayer I said yesterday for the daughter of my dear friend Daren, who yesterday underwent some major orthopedic surgery. (Today she’s fine; the operation — a rare and tricky one — was a complete success.)

On most mornings my wife Catherine and I spend about fifteen minutes sitting together on our couch and saying our prayers. We begin with me saying aloud my personal prayers, wherein I pray for God to that day watch out for Cat; to protect her; to be with everyone at her job. I usually pray for God to bring peace to my father; I ask for his inspiration for my own work that day; and so on. Cat then says her personal prayers; one of us reads aloud a passage from the Bible (we’re just now reading John); we say the Lord’s Prayer together; and finally, for five or ten minutes, we silently meditate.

Then it’s back to regular life for us!

So why the prayers, really? Do I not trust God? Do I think my praying for Emily will help God to care more about what happens to her? Or do I think that God, hearing my prayer, went, “Holy cow! Emily’s operation is today! I thought it was next week! Good thing ol’ John there said something. Otherwise, right at a critical moment in the operation, I think Emily’s surgeon was gonna sneeze.”

You know? Like, does my praying actually help anything in the world go better?

The answer to that question is that I have no idea. Which is great, because I also don’t care about the answer to that question. What can I possibly know about God’s plans? And who am I, to think I might influence them?

I’m pretty arrogant. But I’m not quite that arrogant.

I don’t pray to increase God’s efficacy. I pray because I want to know that I’ve done everything I can to bring God’s love and healing grace into the life of the person for whom I’m praying. And except for physically doing something to directly impact whatever’s happening with that person — e.g., in Emily’s case … well … staying out of the operating room, or, in the case of protecting Cat, hovering around her all day with a gun, Secret Service style — praying for a person is the most I can do for that person.

If I take time out of my life, and sit down, and close my eyes, and wait until I have that special, other-worldly feeling that comes with the presence of God and his Holy Spirit, and then, immersed in that place, basically beg God on behalf of someone else, I come away from that experience knowing (or, for you skeptics out there, feeling) that something magical and critical has taken place about something that I care very much about.

I was with God. And God and I met about that person. And in so doing, I showed God how, when I really care about something or someone, the first and most important thing I do is come to him. I trust him. I want him to help. I want him to do the impossible. I want him to heal, reward, protect, enhance, right, bless.

I want God to execute the miracles I can barely begin to imagine.

And I know he will do that; I know that’s all he ever does.

I know that God’s will will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

And so I dare to ask for some of that will to bend my way. I ask God to intervene on behalf of the ones I love.

Emily’s operation was a success. Did my praying for her having anything to do with that? I have no idea. But what I do know is that when I prayed to God for her protection, I could not, humanly, on this earth, have loved her any more.

 

See also “What is Prayer?”

Next time I’ll write a few words on the weirdness of knowing that, whenever I tell anyone I’m a Christian, they automatically ascribe to me a whole host (so to speak) of beliefs I don’t hold at all.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Don Rappe

    When I pray I consciously tell God what I want. Then God does what he wants. When I pray, he listens to me as he listens to his dear Son Jesus. When he speaks to me, I try to listen. I could be a lot better at that.

  • Kara K

    Fantastic answer to a question I didn’t know I was asking. Thanks, John. You rock.

    • Mindy

      Exactly. Well said, Kara!

      • Diana A.

        Yes indeed!

  • A’isha

    I have to be honest, I don’t pray as regularly as I think I should. Yeah, throughout the day I might offer up brief prayers, but I rarely sit down for an extended time and just pray. I’d like to improve that. I’ve thought about the Lord’s Prayer lately. In it, we’re shown exactly what prayer is about. It doesn’t matter whether you use the “arts,” “thines,” or whatever.

    Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name—We’re praying not just to a big God, but our very own father, who’s totally holy.

    Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven—We’re asking for God’s will to be happen, not ours. In essence we’re also asking for that will to be revealed to us.

    Give us this day, our daily bread—We’re asking for all of our needs to be met.

    And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors—your basic confession and asking for forgiveness, but also a reminder we need to forgive others who’ve wronged us.

    Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—This is kind of weird to me, because why would God lead us into temptation? I guess when we pray this we’re asking that we’ll not be tempted, or we’ll be led away from things that tempt us. The delivering us from evil part seems pretty clear though.

    For the Kingdom, the power, and glory are yours now and forever—We recognize that everything good in the world and in us is from God; he’s the omnipotent one, so he gets the glory.

    On top of how I broke down the Lord’s Prayer, I also think that if we really believe that being a Christian is about relationship instead of religion, then we have to pray (talk with God.) We can’t have any relationship where we only call the other person up when we want to ask for something. We have to actually spend time with them, give and take.

    • Debbie

      Not many ‘I’s in that prayer hey. Lot of ‘ours’ though.

  • A’isha

    Another point I forgot to make. Recently I started looking at Noetic Sciences (after an introduction to it in Dan Brown’s last book, The Lost Symbol.) One of the things in the book and a part of Noetic Science is that thoughts have actual, measurable mass. They’ve actually proven this. So if we’re all praying for something, and our prayers (thoughts) have mass, then it makes sense that the more of us praying for something would increase the mass, which in turn increases the energy. I thought it was interesting, and far too scientific for my lack of knowledge!

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    As I see it, prayer works for me not so much to “change a situation” but to keep me calm within it. Sometimes, my prayers are answered in… uncanny ways. (I always remember that for the ousider it is no “proof” – it merely looks like superstitous pattern reconignition, but whatever). The point of prayer for me isn’t to change a situation so much as it is to keep me attuned to a situation and to gain perspective – so even if the people who like to poop on it are right and I’m just praying to air and “not doing anything,” – No, I am doing something. For me. That keeps me from going more insane than I already am.

    A while back, at a certain news site, when the Japan earthquake/tunsami of mass-destruction hit, there was a news story about kids/students showing solidary with Japan by doing an origami crane project. The idea was that a kid would make a paper crane and post a photo of it to the website. This references a Japanese tradition – an old story about a person folding a thousand paper cranes (cranes being a symbol of longevity) and being granted a wish from the Heavens. From what I hear/read/seen in anime and videogames, sometimes, kids in Japan will do this for a sick classmate. It’s a little legend, and just a little sentiment thing. People on said news site (I’m sure you know the one) were just dumping all over this with comments like “Yeah, this will help.” “Donate money instead, this is doing nothing!” — You know, while forgetting that this was a student/kid project for a segement of the population (kids) who don’t have money to do a sweet show of solidarity. It’s like the sweetness/sentiment of it all went “woosh!” over the heads because they were too busy longing to condemn anything “supertitious.” My conclusion is that some people are so bitter that they’re like territorial cats – not happy until they pee on everything.

    While I just wound up doing a donation, I’d *thought* about folding cranes out of dollar bills and posting it to go “Nya!” but I don’t know how to do origami.

    I don’t really know if prayer, and other things like it such as “sending good vibes” or well-wishing really does anything to truly affect the universe, but I think it is important, at least, as a way to gain perspective and to connect to others – even if it’s just by sentiment.

    • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      I just thought of something – a weird analogy regarding ideas of predestination and prayer/sentiment:

      Maybe life is something like a movie. When you go to see a film, unless you were one of the staff writers or the director of said film, or the author of the book the film is based on…. if you’re just an average person watching a film…. do you feel for the protagonist(s)? Do you want to see the bad guys beaten up? Do you hope this character or that character makes it to end okay? All that hoping isn’t going to change the outcome of the story, but it does mean that you are emotionally invested.

      And if you are emotionally invested, you’re probably enjoying the film a lot more than the guy who doesn’t care much about the protagnoist(s) or who is not paying attention.

      So, maybe in life, it’s less about our actual control over any situation and more about being invested in one another.

      I’m sorry. I think these dumb analogies and metaphors I come up with just proove my crazy. I apologize if I’m commenting with too much crazy for this blog. Smack me one if you have to.

      • Don Rappe

        I like this idea.

      • Diana A.

        I’ve found myself engrossed enough in some of these fictional stories so that I start to pray for a character before I remember that s/he is not real. Silly me!

        But yeah, I like your idea too.

        • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

          I remember one time, years ago, seeing this news report of a high speed chase and starting to pray for it…. only for it to intro into an episode of “The X-Files.” I was a big fan of that show and was waiting for a new episode to air – and it started out with a *very* realistic-looking high speed chase – done up to look like actual FOX news (that is, regular news, this was before the cable FOX News even existed).

          And I felt very silly praying over a situation that turned out to be real, but turned around and didn’t beat myself up over it, because…. hey, it just shows that I had the empathy to care about something (that I thought was real). Also showed some good direction for that episode.

          For anyone interested in looking it up, I do not know the episode title, but it was about a guy who had to drive a certain speed/a certain rate and was driven to head toward the west coast/ocean because his inner ears were going to explode. He was senstive to/subject to some secret weapon the Navy was testing that was, if tuned right, supposed to kill people by making the inside of their skulls explode. I think Mulder got taken hostage by the victim who ranted like a crazy man trying to explain it and how it had killed his wife. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the ep.

          • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

            Turned out not to be real. Argh. I really need to carefully read my posts before posting them.

  • Linda

    This was a really sweet post, John. It made me feel good. Thank you.

  • Skerrib

    Well-put, John. I like that a whole lot.

  • Debbie

    This was so good to read John. God knows we become better people for one another as we trust Him with the scenes of our lives. He knows the power of talking to Him.

  • Erica G

    Cool topic, John. I’ve thought about this often myself, and have concluded that my prayers are for me, rather than my God. Like another commenter said, praying helps me stay calm through a situation while I wait for God’s will to be realized. Praying ‘god grant the the serenity…’ does not make God jump up from her throne and say JEEZE! Had Erica not prayed that, I woulda tortured her with anxiety for hours! It simply serves to refocus my thoughts and point my head in right direction.

    Bravo!

  • charles

    a most excellent post John!

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

    I really like this post. Prayer as an act of love towards another is such a simple yet complex description. We often can’t do anything but pray, but by doing so it shows that we want to do something, anything to help; that we are thinking of that person, wanting things to work out, hoping that they do. God’s part in this conversation is to give us assurance, comfort and courage. Is anything else necessary? I am not sure, but assurance, comfort and courage are often what we need the most. Whatever else God does is what God does, without our permission or knowledge.I can live with that.

  • http://polygonsandsprites.wordpress.com/ Blake

    Ah, I miss my time with Youth With a Mission. It was a bit more evangelical than my tastes, but we prayed a lot. We walked through cities and prayed. We prayed for each other. I “heard” from God and “felt” God. Did it work? Was I imagining things? I don’t know, but I miss the way it felt. God, help me to find that place again.

    • Linda Bale

      To Blake, I was also in YWAM Most f***ed up chiristian organization on the planet. but there are some really good people there, just don’t know why they stay.

  • Lili C

    Great post, John. I like your take on praying for others as a means of loving them. I find that the older I get my prayers for others have become less like a laundry list (“Please help him find a job, and beter health, blah, blah, blah,) and more praying for their well-being and their openess to God’s presence and love. In my better, less self-centered moments my prayers have also become more of a two-way conversation, rahter than me talking ‘at” God – although I don’t always leave room for that to happen. I spent last week-end at the “Wild Goose Festival” in NC, essentially a christian event that centers on social justice, poverty, etc. – a lot of the kinds of topics folks here like to talk about. I found that in a setting of almost constant awareness / concious thought / discussion of God, love, our purpose as His followers, etc. helped me become much more attuned to His presence than I normally am, and prayer became almost a higher,constant state for a while – sometimes with words, sometimes just a strong shared awareness of God’s and my “togetherness”. that’s not the first time I experienced that state, but it hasn’t happened for me in a long time – I have been too taken up with the “busyness” of life.

  • karen

    This is something of which I greatly changed my opinion while I was watching my mother-in-law die of cancer 4 years ago. I spent night after night praying for a miracle. Her church laid on hands, and still she died. When I finally admitted to myself that she was not going to make it, I stopped praying for her to get well, and started praying for God to help me deal with my pain and my anger. I prayed to find a way to help my husband, an unabashed momma’s boy, deal with this crushing loss.

    Since then my entire view of prayers has changed. When a friend of mine’s infant daughter passed away, I didn’t just pray for God to comfort her, I prayed for God to show ME a way to be of comfort to her. Also, when I prayed for her comfort, it was a huge reminder to be thankful for my healthy, though temperamental, toddler that FINALLY went to sleep.

    I think many people like to think that asking God for things in prayer gives them an edge, because it provides the illusion of having some degree of control over the outcome. I really wanted to believe that God would hear my begging and go “You know, maybe I should heal Bev’s cancer”. However, that isn’t the way it happened.


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