Monday, May 9, 2016

Voices of Experience: Prayer for Safety ~ A Pastor's Response

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. ~ Soren Kierkegaard

It was a normal moment. The last meeting before Easter was coming to a close, the cookie container was emptying, people were discussing next steps. Sitting in my church’s conference room at a large rectangular table, I heard one of my colleagues say, “Let’s close in prayer.”

As the ISIS attack on Brussels occurred just one day before, the first prayer request was for the safety of a friend we all knew traveling in Europe. “I’d also like to pray for my children, who are traveling for Spring Break. Please bring them home safely,” another chimed.

I don’t think I heard anything after that. Instead, I felt my temperature rise, saw my husband’s body dragged on the road by a reckless SUV, and revisited many thoughts I’ve had hundreds of times before:

(I should really write a piece about the trauma of triggers.)

Didn’t I pray for James’ safety? Would more prayer really make God intervene? How pointless is it to pray for safety in a world where God gives us free will? Free will means people have the power to make horrible choices, and choices have consequences. God is not a puppeteer orchestrating our lives … Oh I hope we’re not heading into a story that ends with, “God was watching out for him/her that day! S/he shouldn’t have walked away from that crash!” as I can’t believe we have a God who is picking which individuals he should save and which ones should die outrageously.

Here’s the thing: I understand why people want to pray for safety, as I want my loved ones to be safe, too. But instead, my rational and traumatized brain just becomes a resentful-angry-sullen-heated-exasperated mess.

Fortunately, I pulled my mess together and walked out of the meeting like an ordinary individual in good spirits. Time has allowed me to do that (it’s been almost eight years). When I came home, I opened my laptop and started working on revisions that the group assigned, despite the clock reading 10:00pm. It wasn’t long before I found my way to gmail and started drafting an email to my pastor.
I'm feeling like a bad Christian. 
At tonight’s committee meeting, we ended with a prayer that was all about safe travels for people we care about. Pretty normal. 
But inside, my heart’s stitches were torn open yet again. While one side of me wants to pray for protection, too, the other side says things like, “Yeah, ‘cause that worked for James, and the other 38,000 Americans killed annually on the roads. 
As I read the words I just typed, they sound rather tame compared to the turbulent waves in my head. Help. 
Love, Michelle
She must have been up late too, as 28 minutes later, I received this response:
I hear what you are saying. Sometimes words and prayers can seem narrow and limiting. It is difficult, we want safe travel and protection always yet we do not live in a safe world. Accidents will happen, weather will be bad, kids will get hurt, marriages will end, people will die. What is prayer in such a broken world? 
I think about prayer in terms of relationship--God promises to listen to what we say, scream, mutter, cry and sigh and somehow takes this all in and creates from it. And then it is an ongoing conversation and I think ongoing noticing. A prayer for safety does not mean we will always be safe. Maybe our words can only convey our desires and our deep need for God to listen to them. 
I am swept up in Holy Week. It is so absurd to have a God who is forsaken by all and does not do a thing to stop his own suffering and death. He chooses to be known there and from there creates resurrection. Death remains but is transformed. Whatever we pray, God can create from it. 
You are attentive and have a good nose for bad theology. Consider it a gift. You think deeper and wonder more vastly. Let the prayer tonight go and know that your continued questions and thoughts are heard as well. All part of a great mystery. Keep asking and perusing the questions--God is indeed stirring in you. 
What I love about this letter is not only the validation, but the re-framing of prayer as conversation and mystery. I do believe that God works through people and that there is unexplainable energy. My favorite line of hers is “Maybe our words can only convey our desires and our deep need for God to listen to them.” This is something I can remember when I’m praying with a group of people. Moreover, it helps me know that when I yearn to pray for someone I love, the point of that prayer is not about everything turning out okay. It’s about reconnection, therapeutic expression, and hope.

© 2015 by Michelle Jarvie

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