THE MECHANICS OF PRAYER: The Worst Prayer

My Writing

The Worst Prayer Julia Marks

She sat there at the table.  One hand covering a part of the other.

Her sweetness so profound it creates its own kind of beauty.

I want you to pray for a member of my family.

I scrabble for my pen and the piece of paper I use in that setting to list those who will go on my general intercessory prayer list.

I write the name down.

Then, while she is still talking about this prayer of ours, just assigned, she straightens her spine.  And becomes The Brave Girl.

Now we know that nothing can be done for him.

I stand and watch her until she is finished, then go on with my day.

Later, when I get home, I get out my intercessory prayer “notebook.”

It’s this large, hard notebook that has massive rings.  When my daughter went to summer camp, she was required to bring a notebook so she could keep a journal.  This is the one she chose.  It must have a thousand pages in it.  I think Lila liked the outrageousness of it, the unnatural size and shape.  Its significance.

When she brought it home, I kept it with the other semi-retired notebooks that life creates.  Semi-retired in that there was still some precious writing in it.

Eventually, though, it taking up room in the house much like a massive turtle might in its enclosure, I ripped the used pages out, stored them in an Lila-memory envelope and wondered what good it could be used for.

Then, when I was on my 295th try at organizing my general intercessory prayers, I thought of this notebook.

And I decided that I would organize the prayers by month.  Every month I would pick a saint or angel, one perhaps associated with that month, and begin the month’s entry with a novena for that person / winged entity.  And then I would list those I would pray for that month.

Re-creating the pages every month meant that I could clean house every month.  That the list wouldn’t remain static.  Very efficient, to my mind.

Of course, a notebook with lists doesn’t really give me everything I need for that effort.

I also have a pocketed folder that holds the various prayer calendars for various organizations.  It also holds the bulletins from churches that list those in the congregation that need prayer.  And other miscellaneous prayer lists, like Pope Francis’s monthly prayer objectives.  This month it was about finding enthusiastic youth to consider the religious life.

Then there are two “normal” spiral-bound notebooks with prayers that come from certain areas in my life, listing people who will never be unprayed for.

But I assume you get the picture.

Her family member was added to the list of people for whom I am praying for healing.

Now we know that nothing can be done for him.

That night, I sat before those words.

Nothing.

Dear God, We Know That You Can Do Nothing For This Man so….

So, what?

Make sure his bedpans are cleaned efficiently when he goes into the hospital?  Should he come to need an ambulance, clear the way for the driver so that there will be no delay?

What exactly?

I imagine, really, that most people in church who get down on their knees to pray for someone or something begin their prayer:

Dear God, I Know That You Can Do Nothing About This Matter, so….

Dear God.

You are nothing.

You can’t do anything.

Or You won’t do anything for me.

Or, I am only going through the motions of prayer because it feels so comforting.

And people can see how devout I am.

But whatever you do, dear God, DON’T perform a miracle for this person.

For me.

For absolutely anything.

Just leave me to suffer about this matter, and reassure me that by doing so, I am a good person.

OK?

Now I realize that many, many people will say, God doesn’t care about restrictions like that.  He can see beyond that expression of disbelief in a person’s prayer, and heal around it.

Oh, yeah?

Wanna bet?

You pray words.  Even unspoken ones.

And God listens to your words.

You pray, Not Do That.

God hears, Don’t Do That.

People complain all the time how they feel that God doesn’t hear their prayers.

Oh, yeah?

Wanna bet?

I remember reviewing a group of prayers composed by a very sincere man for the cause that was breaking his heart.

And not one of them was actually usable as a prayer for the matter he was praying about.

Not one.

My “favorite” (meaning the one that really shocked me the most) asked God to bring peace and understanding to the world so that a matter in which people were actually, in reality, suffering could be addressed.

Peace and understanding.  Globally accomplished.

How many millennia would that take to do?  Even by God, who has to work with both the people on Earth and time?

Would the country where the suffering lived even still exist by that time?

It was as though a person with a seriously ill child said, Before I take her to the hospital, I will clean all the closets in the house.  Because that will help my beloved child immensely.

No, actually it won’t.

But I’m getting off topic.

Sorry about that.

So to begin a prayer with, Dear God, Don’t Answer This Prayer, is taken very seriously by God.  You don’t want his intervention, he’s not going to force it on you.

Overwrite your petition with his own knowledge of the situation.

It’s called Free Will.

There are exceptions, of course.  With God, there are always exceptions.  Like Saint Paul, say.  Who wasn’t so much someone who was praying for deliverance, but more someone who was prayed by God into being delivered.

There are times when you just can’t outrun God’s plans for you.

As hard as you try to.

Speaking from experience here.

But, again, back to tonight’s topic:

You want this person NOT to be touched by God’s grace?  So be it.

And, yes, we could agree that all this is is a person’s unthinkingness.

But prayer isn’t something to unthink about.

It is, in fact, that thing in life about which we ought to think.  And think correctly.

All right.  So I described a situation in which a person who really, in her heart, wants God’s help, but doesn’t want to appear a fool to others by seeming to believe in miracles.

Don’t be silly.

This is reality, Julia.

I always tend to wind up feeling that I am disrespectful of people like this because I so profoundly disagree with their premise of an impotent God.

But that’s just me.

But what happens when this condition to have God not respond to a prayer is done in an official way?

When someone prays openly for a miracle with the unsaid stipulation that God NOT answer this prayer?

Do me a favor, God.  It will look like I want you to do something, but, between you and me, I KNOW you won’t answer this prayer, so don’t even bother listening to me.  And if you just happen to catch a whiff of it, just ignore it.  Deal?

Done officially.

Acting as though he wants others to pray along with him.

God fraud, I guess we could call it.

Using God as a prop.

Does doing that imperil a person’s soul?

To my mind, it does.

Trying to lead people into thinking that praying for this miracle is a real thing, when it’s nothing but a sham, isn’t just about you on your knees being Brave about admitting that you know that God can’t or won’t do anything for you.  It’s about involving others in your effort to castrate God.

Officially.

Openly.

And perhaps not as a means of showing how Brave you are.  But to maintain control of the situation.

A miracle would upset the apple cart by changing the dynamic of how things get done around here.

Don’t Want That.

Which only winds up putting this magician who thinks he has the ability to do away with God in the world in need of prayer.

Intercessory prayer.

In fact.

I wonder if we really know how most of our prayer life is really about asserting our disbelief in a God who can answer prayers.

How many of us are Brave Little Boys And Girls.

Who don’t believe in miracles.

Don’t be silly.

This is reality, Julia.

Amen.

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