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.