When Praying No Longer Works as a Special Needs Mom

When Praying No Longer Works as a Special Needs Mom July 21, 2018
Praying Woman
Woman Praying on the Beach


As a Special Needs Mom, I prayed for my son’s health to be restored, healed, and for peace for my family.

Initially, praying helped me feel better, provided me with a sense of security, and helped me through our chaotic life.

My prayers were never answered, and I began to wonder why praying no longer works for my son.

After a recent trip to the doctor, I realized that I had found more peace by not praying.

My son has a heart condition that doctors have followed for years.

Initially, when doctors discovered the defect, they thought he would need immediate surgery.

Imagine my panic almost three years ago, when I learned that doctors wanted to perform open heart surgery. My son had just turned three years old, and he was so tiny.

I struggled to make sense of the news of my son having his chest opened, put on lung/heart bypass, and having his heart repaired.

In the chaos of those days, I left my high paying position in Corporate America, I became a stay at home mom, and I dove into the full-time job of raising my medically fragile son.

Then nothing happened.

Despite an initial echocardiogram that indicated severe issues inside the heart, a follow-up test stated the heart improved.

Our cardiologist changed his mind about surgery, and we agreed to be followed carefully to monitor any changes to his heart.

From January 2016 until July 2018, our doctor did routine echocardiograms that measured the severity of his illness.

Most appointments my son got an echo, we met the doctor, nothing changed, and we left the office.

After my initial shock, not much changed in his heart and we continued with our life.

I forgot about the disease that was ravaging his heart.

We didn’t pay close attention to symptoms because his tests remained the same for years.

Our appointment last week felt no different than the previous appointments with our cardiologist.

He sat quietly while an ultrasound wand videotaped the function of his heart.

After we finished the test, we moved back to the clinic room and waited for our doctor.

Our regular cardiologist had the week off, and we met one of his partners.

A young cardiologist that barely appeared to be in his 30s walked into the room. His hands fidgeted back and forth, and his face seemed to be serious and stoic.

He greeted me.

Before I could respond to his greeting, words quickly fell out of his mouth.

It took me a moment to register what he told me.

“Right atrium dilation and increased pressure.”

My stomach dropped to my feet, and my heart began to pound so hard it felt as though it was coming out of my chest.

I knew what this meant for my son.

After years of no change in his heart, his heart could no longer keep up with the demands of his growing body.

My hands began to fidget, and I could feel my fingers move frantically up my arms as I made sense of this news.

We would need to schedule open heart surgery.

I remember sitting there, and I thought about praying to God.

Then I remembered I don’t believe in God.

For years, anytime I got terrible news about his health, my inner voice quietly spoke to God and begged him for a miracle.

At that moment, despite the devastating news I received, I realized this next step would be on our own

Following the news of surgery, I spent the rest of the evening updating family and friends.

Messages flooded into my inbox, on my social media, and via text messages.


“May God Heal Your Son.”

“In Jesus Name.”

When we attended church, these words provided me with a sense of safety and security.

As I read the words that evening, it occurred to me that prayers meant nothing to me.

I felt grateful for knowing people cared about my son, and I could feel their concern and knew they truly cared about my son.

However, prayers to a God I did not believe in, meant nothing to me.

I had a moment of profound clarity that evening.

For years, I depended on prayers and begged God to help my son.

Every time I prayed, I felt powerless and empty. Relying on an all-powerful being in the sky for my son’s health made me feel out of control.

While many people feel peace when they pray, I began to feel no peace or safety with prayer.

As my son’s health deteriorated each year, praying gave me more anxiety than it helped me.

My ability to believe in God slowly dissipated with every surgery, every medication, and every new diagnosis my son received.

At first, I told a friend that I was in a fight with God.

How could a loving God knowingly allow my child to suffer?

My church friends tried to console me and remind me that not all prayers are answered.

I learned God didn’t answer prayers on demand.

I couldn’t believe in a God that would allow my son to be sick.

As I watched my friends lose their children to disease, I could no longer believe a God would allow such enormous suffering.

I grew tired of hearing that my lack of faith caused my son’s diseases.

Over a period of months, I disrobed my cloak of Christianity.

Then I became an atheist.

Now I was presented with another challenge with my son’s health, and I no longer had faith to lean on.

For the first time in my atheism journey, I needed to look at a situation objectively and practically.

While I sorted through the sea of comments on my social media, I set my phone down and took a deep breath.

Suddenly, I realized this entire situation was under my control.

I didn’t need to pray to God to heal my son.

Instead, I learned I could trust myself more than God.

Similarly, I realized I could trust our team to make the right decisions to help my son.

Over the span of 5 years, I hired a team of professionals to treat his diseases.

My insatiable need to help my son had enabled me to advocate for his care, find him doctors, and improve his quality of life.

I controlled all of his care, made all the choices, and advocated for him.

God wasn’t a factor in any part of this journey.

Every time I prayed, I gave up control and counted on someone else to fix the situation. By relying on someone else to help my son it always gave me high anxiety, frustration, and anger.

With a deep exhale, I realized that I no longer had to “Give it to God.”

Rather than feeling deep anxiety and panic, I felt calm for the first time raising my son.

I knew that no matter what happened I trusted our doctors.

Our doctors have the skill, experience, and knowledge to fix his heart.

Scientific data shows that my son’s operation has a 98.5% survival rate.

Sure the idea of my doctors opening my son’s chest terrified me, but the confidence I have in our team, scientific advancements, and long-term prognosis for his surgery dampened any fears that permeated my soul.

For the first time in my life, I realize that by trusting my ability as his mother, his doctors, and medical advancements I no longer live in fear.

The unknowing power of God’s ability to heal never worked for me.

Leaning on God never helped me feel safe or secure.

As we prepare for open heart surgery, I have never been more calm, more centered, and more in control.

As a result of my atheism I no longer “give it to god,” and I chose to trust in science.











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  • I grew tired of hearing that my lack of faith caused my son’s diseases.

    I’m usually the one who’s rolling his eyes at the anti-religion rhetoric here at Patheos Nonreligious, but the idea that anyone would say that out loud to a mother of a special needs child is so downright despicable it makes me want to kiss Richard Dawkins’s feet.

    Glad to see your blog is up and running. Best of luck!

  • My husband and I have discussed how being atheist finally brought us into adulthood as we had to take care of issues rather than relying on (or hoping) a heavenly parent would fix it. Thank you for sharing. Researching your son’s care and getting him professional help is the best thing you can do for him

  • Morgan Lefaye

    Those people need to be sent back to preschool and relearn basic manners. Or be punched in the nose.

  • Thank you! I’m happy to be here! You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve heard

  • agree!

  • Yes, it’s like this amazing LEAP into being responsible. When I hear “give it to god”, I hear someone unwilling to take responsiblity for their own issus – and instead throwing it to someone else to fix. Sure, it makes not dealing with it easier, but when you get muddy in the waters, you learn way more about how resourceful and tough you can be.

  • Michael Neville

    My thoughts are with you and your son. I hope the surgery goes well and there’s an improvement in your son’s health.

  • Michael Neville

    There are reasons why you see so much anti-religion rhetoric here at Patheos Atheist Nonreligious. It’s not just because we’re disagreeable ogres.

  • sometimes those who claim to be the most loving, non-judgemental and gracious – are the opposite. And thus why I ended up where I’m at – but I’m super glad to be here because having atheism has been the most powerful gift I have given myself.

  • thank you so much! We know this will help him tremendously! And I have full faith and confidence in our team. I also know my kid is gonna kick this surgeries butt.

  • Michael Neville

    I have no problem with the vast majority of theists. They’re generally good people trying to live as best they can. It’s the other theists I don’t care for. The ones who blame misfortune on the victims’ lack of piety. The ones who condemn LGBT+, women and other non-White Conservative cis-hetro theist males as sinners. The ones who want to impose their beliefs on those who don’t share said beliefs.

    Have you ever noticed that when someone claims to know the mind of God that their God has exactly the same opinions and prejudices as its spokescritter has? I doubt this is a coincidence.

  • There are some very decent Christians or believers in the world. I was unfortunately part of a group that wanted to SAVE everyone from hell. which resulted in a lot of talk about how my kid was born of sin because he’s broken.

  • Michael Neville

    Ten years ago the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I told this to a co-worker who, knowing that she and I were atheists, said the cancer was a warning from God so I should get on my knees and pray to him for a cure. I replied that I didn’t believe in negotiating with terrorists.

    The wife has been cancer free since her treatment.

  • OMG negotiating with terrorists! I love that! That’s what I refer to about negotiating with my son during temper tantrums

  • divgradcurl

    Shem, do you have any idea where Prof. Dawkins’ feet have been?

    (Seriously, though, no foot-kissing is called for. There is no God and Richard Dawkins is not His prophet. At his best, the man is a fount of intellectual brilliance and moral clarity. At his worst, he’s a pedantic fool with the unshakable stance that technical “correctness” of his points is more important and more interesting than any of the people he hurts by picking the worst possible time, place, and phrasing of those points.)

    In his whole, Dawkins is the same as 99% of the humans who ever lived: way too bizarre a tangle of contradictions to ever be written off as a villain or a saint.

  • divgradcurl

    Hang in there, Ms. Paulson, and all our kindest wishes to you, your so, and both your friends and loved ones.

    I’m glad you’ve found a team of doctors you can trust and rely on. I’ve been in positions where I, or someone I care about, was critically ill and being treated by incompetent dolts…and in other situations where the medical crisis was as bad or worse, but the team had earned my full confidence. The difference it makes to not have to double-check your medical team’s every move, and fight them when they’ve screwed up, is nothing short of stunning.

    Hang onto that medical team, and to everyone else who brings you and your son courage and confidence, and say the word if any of us can help from a distance!

  • I recently watched “the God Delusion” and while I was completely taken by his view and evidence of WHY GOD doesn’t exisi, it was his approach with other people that was less than desirable with me. He wants everyone to see his way of thinking and wants to prove everyone else wrong. I live in the world of – everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. If it gives them confidence, hope, or ability to cope, it works for them. I don’t believe in God, but I won’t tell someone not to believe. They need to figure it out themselves.

  • I recently watched “the God Delusion” and while I was completely taken by his view and evidence of WHY GOD doesn’t exisi, it was his approach with other people that was less than desirable with me.

  • Thank you so much! We have had incompetent doctors in our group as well. I can empathize with you about how scary it is to have to scream and advocate in the middle of a crisis. There is nothing worse than being in a place that is suppose to HELP your loved one, and you are the one trying to make sure they don’t kill them.

    Thank you for your thoughts. It really means a lot to hear words that aren’t “prayers” and “amen”. I came to Patheos specifically to write from my atheist point of view, and I’m finding the readers here fiesty, kind, and full of spunk! This is going to be fun.

  • Oh, lighten up. All I meant is that 99% of the time, the mean-spirited booger-flicking that passes for “religious critique” is just self-righteous condescension with science words.

    Then I hear a situation like the one Katie describes here, and I remember how uniquely evil religious people can be.