Dear Thoughtful Pastor: Do you believe in prayer? Does prayer work? If I pray for a friend with a disease and she dies anyway, did I just not pray hard enough? ~Disappointed
Dear Disappointed: Three questions here.
First question: do I believe in prayer?
Well, not exactly, although I think I understand what you are asking here. I believe in God. Prayer, for me, is one of the essential disciplines of the formed spiritual life. I need time set aside to be still and quiet my mind. I need to make the intentional move from thinking primarily about the immediate stuff swirling around me and concentrate on the eternal and the holy.
Second question: does prayer work?
Not in the sense that we put money in the Celestial Slot Machine and then wait for the lights to start flashing and the money to start flowing. Not in the sense that we make our lists for the Heavenly Santa Claus and wait for our desires to be delivered in gaily wrapped packages. Not in the sense that we can order the Divine Butler to make our coffee and smooth out our lives.
Yes in the sense that disciplined prayer stops us in our tracks. Yes when practiced with the understanding that we have the privilege of conversation with the Holy One. Yes with the understanding that prayer brings humility and broadens us to think of things beyond our immediate needs, wants, demands, and frustrations. Yes when done with awareness that we come with weaknesses and limited knowledge.
In all these cases, prayer may open our eyes to the areas where we’ve missed the mark, where we’ve violated our own standards, where we’ve mistreated or misused others in the most egregious of ways. It may then bring healing to us, which we then may be able to give to others.
Third question: if what I don’t want happens anyway, in the case the death of someone special, is my own inadequate ability to pray the cause?
Yes if you think that your words hold the ability to change God’s mind.
No if you are willing to take the words that Jesus used when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. He reminded them that part of prayer is to make way for the reign of heaven, “Thy Kingdom come” and the will of God, “Thy will be done.”
So the big question here when we go to prayer: what is the “will” of God, particularly when we are dealing with illnesses and early deaths?
Here’s my suggestion: Let the nature of creation teach you about the nature of the Creator. Stop and admire the natural world, see how the cycle of life continues from new birth to growth to maturity to death to rebirth.
Death, as hard as we fight it, is necessary to life. This doesn’t mean we don’t grieve or fail to do what is possible to delay those deaths, including praying for the miracles. But it frees us when we recognize that this immensely complex cosmos in which we live depends upon that cycle of life to death to life again. Learning to live with and appreciate those rhythms are part of what happens by embracing the rhythms of prayer in our lives.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: How do we help our children who believe in God, but don’t trust Him with their lives? How do we help our grandchildren with their lives, especially if we can’t help our children? ~Worried.
Dear Worried: I suspect that the need to rebel against our parents’ religious beliefs comes from somewhere deep in human nature, probably part of our genetics. Parents are stuck with it. It might be a good time to consider how much we owe our own parents who had to put up with we who are now adults.
Assuming I’m right (OK, how could the Thoughtful Pastor possibly be wrong?), back off and simply offer respect for your children as they try to figure out how to live their lives.
The problem, of course, is that a question like this often springs from parents who sees their offspring about to make some really bad decisions. As in disastrous, destructive, heart-breaking decisions.
So what to do? All entreaties that they turn to and trust God the way that you’ve found helpful in your own life will fail. Period. They tend to shut down dialogue at a time when dialogue is the one thing that both parents and children need most.
Consider a moment the nature of true dialogue, the process of listening to one another without judgement, argument or seeking to change the mind of the other. True dialogue opens a door to a safe room. In the safe room, people like your children can begin to talk through their lives, decisions and their repercussions.
However, the moment that the other party moves from generous listening to offering advice, the safe room turns dangerous. All defenses spring to life. Rational thought hides while the fight or flight gut reaction takes over.
Simply put: stop offering advice, suggestions, or concerns. If you really trust God, then trust God to work through and in your grown offspring. Let peace take over. In peace, see if you can open the dialogue door.
About the grandchildren: if the parents trust you with their grandchildren, then you get to show those little ones the goodness of God through your own lives. What little kid doesn’t want to spend time with a grandparent who can offer love in a far less pressured environment than parenting produces?
Have them come for overnights. Take them to a church where they will be welcomed and treasured. Teach them by your own life and example how you trust in God in the large and small areas of your life. Pray for them every single day.
The grandchildren will never forget those sweet memories. In time, as they begin to make their adult decisions about their own spiritual lives, those memories will hold and inform them.
All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.
[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, September 18, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]