Recently, a friend posted on Facebook that her friend has been found to be cancer-free, which was glorious news for all concerned. I certainly do not begrudge anyone such wonderful, miraculous news. However, in reading the comments that people made, all congratulatory, as to be expected, I found myself becoming a little irritated. Some of the messages of goodwill were: ‘just shows the power of prayer’ and ‘that’s what happens when you have people all over the country praying for you’ and ‘always knew she was a fighter.’ Nothing offensive there; in fact, I have said those same words too many times to count. However, I was offended. I have felt the seed of being offended by those words before, but this time they struck me as meaningless platitudes.
Important caveat here – I have just lost my beloved Uncle Charlie to cancer, and my sister-in-law, a friend of some 33 years, is losing her battle with cancer as I write this, so I am a tad on edge.
Here’s my issue: I have prayed just as hard for those miracles. My family and extended family have prayed. Friends and acquaintances have prayed. And fighters? I wasn’t around my Uncle Charlie as he battled the disease, but I was able to visit Renee twice during her seven month battle. Until the end, she was determined to live – she had so much to live for. She is raising three young grandchildren, and has two others whom she loves dearly, she has a man she has loved 25 years or so, she has children, and friends, and extended family. Places to go, people to see – what was there not to live for? So where is the power of prayer here? When I post her death on Facebook, or let friends who have inquired know, will they say, ‘just shows the power of prayer?’ I am thinking not.
When my daddy died, I prayed to God. Well, really, I begged. I told him, ‘Just give him back. You did it for Lazarus, it’s not that hard, just give him back.’ It felt like there was no power to that prayer. My mother-in-law, who suffers from vision issues, prayed that God would take her sight and give Renee her health back. Didn’t happen.
When I used to be in the classroom, I would tell my students that when we pray to God, we have to be prepared for the answer that He gives. When you pray for healing, you have to be prepared to accept that the ultimate healing might be what you get – the healing that means your loved one is no longer an earthly presence. When you pray, sometimes the answer is no. Do I understand why God doesn’t see things my way? No, most assuredly I do not. It is beyond my understanding. I don’t know why my friend’s friend gets to live a little longer and my uncle and sister-in-law have received the ultimate healing.
When I was ranting to myself about this the other day, I suddenly had an epiphany. The power of prayer and the ‘I’m praying for …’ doesn’t have as much to do with the recipient of the prayers as it does with the one doing the praying. Joining our voices in prayer for someone lifts them spiritually, and at the same time it lifts us as well. We like to feel we are doing something that can help, that can make a difference. But what really happens, I think, is that praying gives us the grace to accept whatever God’s answer to us might be. Prayer brings us into conversation with God, even when we don’t understand the whole conversation. My parents conversed about many things as a child. I didn’t always understand what they were talking about, but I trusted them to take care of me and to lead me where I needed to go. I don’t know why God chose to take Uncle Charlie and is choosing to take Renee. I won’t understand that until he and I are face-to-face someday. But I do know that my prayers comforted Renee; she felt the strength of them. I know that when there came a time I couldn’t pray after my daddy’s death, that my cousin Cindy lifted up my prayers for me. I know that my prayers for all of them have helped me to grow and reflect in my own faith journey.
That is the power of prayer.