Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Unanswered prayers

"More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."
--St. Teresa of Avila

As some of my gentle readers are aware, LDS Church Public Affairs Director Michael Otterson has a blog on the Washington Post website. I actually think this is a good thing, though he tends to be very general and noncontroversial in his comments. This week, Brother Otterson wrote about the lessons he has gleaned from his regular practice of prayer. One of his lessons in particular caught my eye:

That prayer may never be more meaningful than when the life or health of our own child is in the balance.

Your humble host commented:
All due respect, what would you say to a father who prayed frequently, sincerely, and desperately, begging his Heavenly Father for improvement in his chldrens' health, received nothing at all by way of an answer, and saw the situation continuing to deteriorate around him? Shouldn't that father have received something--anything--in response to his frequently tearful, sometimes angry entreaties? I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall by offering unanswered prayers, and that pain went away only when I gave up on that practice.

Sadly, this was how I felt a few years ago, as I sought a solace that I never received. My family situation was a disaster--two children with severe developmental disabilities, a deeply depressed spouse, and no support system to speak of. I, too, was diagnosed with depression. Up until this time, I had prayed mostly out of habit, but when the crap hit the fan, I spent hours on my knees. Alas, nothing came of it. Eventually, I began finding a measure of relief in a meditation practice that allowed the pain, fear, anger, and sadness to float around inside my mind, and that somehow made me feel connected to everybody and everything else in the cosmos. I know that others achieve something like this through traditional prayers, and, in theory, I think that it is life-affirming to be able to communicate intimately and familiarly with an omniscient God, and I'm happy for those who accomplish that, but it just didn't work for me. OTOH, perhaps St. Teresa was right about answered prayers and unanswered prayers. As the maxim says, be careful about what you ask for, because you might just get it. But I don't know how having my kids' conditions healed--or at least my own white-hot pain lessened--could ever be considered a bad thing.


Ann said...

Have you seen the podcasts on www.mrdeity.com? The one on prayer is a humdinger.

I don't mean to make light of your situation, but the way GOD HIMSELF talks about it makes enormous sense.

"Why would I want to intervene? I'm in a win-win situation already. People pray to me and they get what they pray for, who gets the credit? Me! They pray and they don't get what they pray for, who gets the blame? Not me!"

Randy said...

Ah, so that's the deal. I suppose people don't blame God so much as, depending on the circumstances, they a) get that they're capable of doing/obtaining whatever on their own; b) get that they shouldn't be praying for whatever it is in the first place; c) blame themselves; d) change their conceptualization of God; or e) stop believing in Him altogether.

Anonymous said...

I suppose this is where so much anger comes from - eg, in that eternal question of TBMs vs 'the damu.' It's hard to be in pain and have the institution, people, and/or deity/ies that are supposed to be the truest thing about life, just not be there for you. At all. Or, worse yet, actually causing the pain, while at the same time telling you it's your own fault. Ouch.

"White hot pain." I know it too. It seems that things are better for you now, and that makes me happy.

Randy said...

Yes, it was bad enough feeling abandoned by my local congregation; it was much worse feeling abandoned by God himself. And, man, was I angry about that.