Dear Facebook friends,
I want to draw your attention to something that’s been bothering me lately. As with many of my opinions, this one is guaranteed to irk some people, so I’m going to do my best to explain it in a way that is non-judgmental and non-condemning.
I read many of the prayer requests you post. While I don’t always remember to pray, I appreciate the realness and compassion behind your words. The reminder that life is both unpredictable and messy is sometimes a welcome change in a sea of posts that tempt me to compare my life to others.
When I read your requests for healing prayers, I am especially sympathetic, because most of you know I’ve been in that desperate place with my own family. I understand more than I wish I did the helplessness you might feel when prayer is the only thing left to do for someone.
It’s just the follow-up posts I sometimes have trouble with, which occasionally crop up: “[Insert loved one’s name here] is healed! Praise God!!” The comments tend to be echoes of the same, with additional commentary that the prayers of the faithful are always answered, that God always hears, and God always cares.
It’s not that I disagree with all that. I’m a Christian too, and I believe in the power of prayer (though lately I’m shifting toward the belief that prayer is more for changing ourselves than our circumstances, but that’s another post). It was so touching to hear from friends near and far that they added my father’s name to their prayer lists; that they didn’t forget and they weren’t giving up. I so appreciated that because in the final weeks of his life, praying was exhausting and I just couldn’t do it.
So it’s with complete sincerity and a heartbroken spirit that I ask you to please consider how it makes people who just lost someone they love feel when you make posts like that. Believe me, I know it is not your intent to be hurtful. And I am glad that the situation turned out well for you. I really am. But the implication I read is that my father must have died because not enough people prayed, they prayed wrong, or they prayed to the wrong god. However encouraging you intended to be, those posts hurt. They poke a wound in me that hasn’t healed, and may always feel a little sore.
In the same way that “Nice haircut!” can be a genuine compliment or a snappy insult, it’s not necessarily the words you say, but how you say them. I don’t believe that God turned his back on my family. It’s obvious my father died because he pulled the genetic short stick, and that end was inevitable regardless of the number of prayers we received. That’s how nature works. I don’t disbelieve in miracles, but if they still happen, they are rare. If prayer worked as many Christians seem to think it does, there would be sporadic, unexplainable healings happening all over the place. Fewer, if any people at all, would be dying in tragic circumstances.
You may think that my grief is clouding my ability to keep things in perspective, and maybe you’re right. But I see these posts so often, and am so frequently triggered by them, I just couldn’t stay silent about this any longer.
Please don’t think that I am anti-gratitude or against praising God for good things. I don’t ever want you to stop doing this! All I ask is that you be mindful of how people not as fortunate might interpret what you’re saying. If God chooses to heal one person, that means there’s scores of others he did not heal. The last thing that the bereaved should be contemplating is why someone else’s loved one was divinely selected for healing, but theirs was not.
This is not an issue of being politically correct and tiptoeing around people’s feelings; this runs a bit deeper than that, because grief is serious. Grief forever changes things. I was a Christian before and I’m a Christian still, yet there was no way I could emerge from this loss unchanged. My conceptions of healing prayers were one thing that got tweaked from all this. God does provide healing: that’s why he gave us doctors. Given the way that nature was designed to work (and, I suppose, as a result of the Fall), not every condition can be healed. Life just sucks like that sometimes.
Feel free to disagree with me – I know many of you will. I just needed to get this off my chest, and now that I have, it’s time to make more coffee and get back to working on my new book.