“We still have to ask”

When my son Ander died, after weeks of people praying fervently for him, I faced a seismic shift in my relationship with God and with prayer. As I discussed last week, I no longer have the naive belief that God actually answers prayers, or that if you have enough piety/commitment/fervor/favor your prayers will be answered. It just doesn’t work that way, and when I think about it with my new eyes, I realize that if God did “fix” things due to prayer, it would put a damper on our free will. I won’t get into whether God can answer prayers if (s)he chose to do so, because I do not know if God is omnipotent (and therefore either callous or intent on leaving us to our own free will) or not (which would explain the lack of prayer-answering and some peoples’ claims that God just helps us cope with the pain after the fact).

So what is the POINT of prayer, after all?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I have trouble praying now, myself. It just seems so, well, pointless. I don’t find it comforting; I feel like I’m talking to nothing at all. No one and nothing seemed to hear me before, so why would they now?

I recognize that this perspective is still mired in the bitterness of grief. If I reflect honestly, I can say that at the moment of Ander’s death, I was filled with peace and – I have no other word for it – joy, and whether that was due to a higher Being or to an overflow of hormones and emotions and love for my son, I just don’t know.

I recently read this article by Rebecca Wolf. It is about a family who believed strongly in the power of prayer for their little girl, and how girl died anyway. While I wish I knew the perspective of the family after Hannah’s death (is it like mine, I wonder? Or did they somehow retain their faith in prayer, in God?), the article does provide an interesting perspective: that of one of the women who prayed, who didn’t know the child or the family that well. Yet from this prayer commitment, she learned empathy. Says Wolf:

“I don’t know if it made a difference to God that I prayed for Hannah. I’m glad I did it, though, because it helped me to be a more compassionate person. This was the first time I ever did something consistently, for so long, for someone who was not related to me. It also helped me to better understand why I pray: to recognize that only God is truly in control in this world. We can do our best to be good, loving, hardworking, moral people, but we cannot do anything to guarantee our fate. So, even though God does not always answer our prayers in the way we hope for, we still have to ask.”

Wolf’s “profound disappointment” that the prayer chain did not save Hannah mirrors my own feeling. Yet I find it vastly comforting that she learned from this experience to care about this little girl, to say her name. She learned that people are lucky, or unlucky, that you cannot be saved through faith or virtue alone. And I’m grateful for that, because if nothing else, the non-babyloss mama Rebecca Wolf understands.

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10 Responses to “We still have to ask”

  1. Michele says:

    I’m really glad you’re writing about this. I was never particularly religious before my daughter died, but I prayed for her in a vague way as well as for my best friend’s daughter who was preterm, and they died on the same day. It is very hard for me to stomach the idea that there is a ‘plan’ for us and that some prayers get answered and others do not. I don’t judge anyone in this community who thinks differently than I do about God and prayer and an afterlife, but I feel like I’m in the minority within it. Thanks for putting this out there.

    • babylossmama says:

      I also feel in the minority, so it’s good to know I’m not alone either! I feel a lot of guilt about having lost my faith – I can’t understand how other people responded so differently to their child’s death and feel much more strongly about God than they did before.

  2. kaitlynva says:

    I’m not at all religious, but I think it’s so beautiful that Wolf had this sense of connection to Hannah and community with her family. That is lovely and very powerful. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I’m not particularly religious either, but there are many many times that I’ve asked myself why, when there were so many people pulling for her through their own strong belief in God and prayer it didn’t seem to make a difference for D. I know both sets of our parents have struggled with this in their own way, but it does make you wonder. What’s the point of any of it? It’s a struggle that you aren’t alone in at all in this world. *hugs*

  4. J says:

    I will say just this regarding your question about what the point of prayer is: Folks who believe in prayer do not believe it is a vending machine: insert request, receive desire. It is more like a child talking to a parent about a hurt, a want, a thought. Sometimes our situations change, and sometimes our perspectives about the situations do. People who believe in prayer think that both parts are “powerful,” and answers in their own ways.

    • babylossmama says:

      J, I believe that is what prayer is for you, but I think it’s disingenuous to assume that ALL “folks/people who believe in prayer” feel this way. I grew up in a faith tradition that very much promoted an “ask and you shall receive” mentality, that promised that if you asked God for something with sincerity, faith and goodwill, your prayer would be heard. I believed in prayer, and that is what I believed. Now, as I have become more mature, I can recognize that “heard” is not the same as “answered,” but I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that God will answer my prayers if I just pray hard enough/have enough faith. I firmly, firmly believe that everyone praying for my son’s recovery – myself included – believed that if we requested this very worthy thing (saving an infant’s life), God would hear all of the hundreds of people and give us a miracle. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Now when I pray, I feel and hear nothing, no connection to God of any kind. This makes me terribly sad, but ironically, I still don’t believe that prayer is worthless, either – and I’ll write more about that in later posts!

      • J says:

        Unfortunately, it sounds like folks who say that if you just pray hard enough, whatever you want will come true have never had a great disappointment! I would say those who have seen sadness and suffering in life and also cling to prayer would not have such a Disney-story interpretation. I am so, so sorry that others have said that to you and made you feel guilty in your supposed lack of faith. I am reminded of a Protestant acronym now that I think of it that goes Pray Until Something Happens. It deeply bothers me because it insists that if we stick in enough prayers, something will just “happen,” and then we can stop. You know how Christ prayed in Gethsemane all night to not have to suffer and die if there was another way? He still suffered and died. I think of that when I think about prayer being an automatic “yes” after enough effort, versus a “change of attitude.”

        Please forgive me if I’ve offended you at all. Your post just really tugged at my heart, since of course I also find faith to be difficult at times, but not enough to lose it–in ways it is much stronger in ways I didn’t feel before. It is something much different, and I can’t quite name it.

      • babylossmama says:

        Oh J, you didn’t offend me! I always welcome respectful and open dialogue on my blog. I appreciate your help and insight as I struggle with prayer and finding my faith. In some ways, ironically, I’m more connected to the church than ever – advising the youth group, serving on a discernment committee for a pastoral intern – and yet in other ways, I feel much less firm in my beliefs than I ever have before. I wrote a post about it awhile ago: https://babylossmama.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/if-it-happened-to-mary/. Your comment on Gethsemane made think of it, as the point in my post was helping myself remember another mother’s prayers for her son’s life that also still ended in her son’s death. I’m just relearning the basics of prayer and my faith all over again now that the rocks of the foundation tumbled down (to use another biblical analogy :)). I really like that PUSH phrase – I’ve never heard it before, and yet I think that’s how I used to conceptualize prayer – which is obviously why I’m now having a crisis!

  5. Gretchen says:

    My prayer life has shifted dramatically after Zachary’s suffering and death – through which we (and thousands of others) were praying constantly. I don’t know anymore that it matters “what” I pray. I don’t have the sense that God has intention of having as intimate a relationship (with me and my fellow humans) as my Christian background had led me to believe. I no longer ask for anything specific, specific outcomes, on the rare occasion that I pray. Currently, my prayers still come out as anger and pleadings about Zachary’s suffering and death and my double-lot of grief. Rarely, I am able to thank Him for what I have left.

    While I don’t fully dismiss the views of the non-bereaved, I have a hard time with people insisting that prayer has an impact on their actual situation. Like, they are able to use the power of prayer to propel God to do something different, to rescue, to reduce pain, etc. We’ve had a family situation recently where one family member continues to request prayers and then report on how “the prayers are working”. It is taking all I have to not lash out. When people say they are praying for me (presumably about my grief), I am always gracious and appreciative of the sentiment, but inside I am cynical wondering if they can even fathom what it is to cross the experience of child death with faith.

    • babylossmama says:

      Can I get an Amen? LOL. Your first paragraph encapsulates exactly how I feel and exactly what I was trying to get across. I can completely understand your fury when others gleefully announce that “the prayers are working!” And like you, I think it’s that they are ignorant as I used to be – there is no way to understand the crisis of faith after losing an innocent, newborn life.

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