An old friend of mine recently underwent major surgery. We hadn’t spoken in years for a variety of reasons but we recently connected – you guessed it – on Facebook. He has always struck me as a private, humble man and what was remarkable was how he asked for prayers beforehand, something he had never really done before, thinking that asking for prayers was selfish on his part.
The prayers and well wishes he received from family and friends from various parts of his life were plentiful, lifted his spirits, and carried him successfully through the surgery including a frightening episode about 24 hours post-operation. He admitted afterwards that he was grateful for everyone’s prayers as it truly helped him through.
Because we hadn’t spoken in years and the severity of the surgery caught me by surprise, I called him to catch up. The conversation eventually turned to my life and whether I was happy. I had to admit that no, I really wasn’t. There is something refreshing about my 50s that I’m more apt to tell it like it is.
I shared a little bit about why I am struggling with happiness, but after so many years of not talking to this friend, I still caught myself holding back. It didn’t seem appropriate to dump my whole life story in the span of a short conversation. Besides he had some physical healing to do, and I know times like that can bring on a sort of mental reconciliation as well. There was no need for me to burden him whatsoever with my story.
Anyone looking at my life from the outside in would think I had it made. However I would urge you to look around: do you really know what burden another carries in their heart or for how long? Do you really care to know? And can you be trusted with this information if you had it?
My friend asked me if I prayed about my troubles. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, and felt a lump in my throat before answering. Despite getting more and more frank as I age, I may have even held back on what was really in my heart when I responded.
I told him truthfully that I was 100% certain that God does not answer my prayers. Speaking from five decades of experience, of course.
I hate that that’s where my spirituality has evolved but it’s true. I can think of several concrete examples of the times I have fervently prayed to God, appealing to him for certain changes, outcomes, or relief that never came.
You’ve heard the arguments: God answers in his own time, in his own way. Maybe the things I’ve prayed for were not in my best interest.
And that’s where my head and my heart wonder: what’s the point?
As the conversation with my friend continued, I felt compelled to explain my position. I’m sure it surprised him that I didn’t give the most Christian of answers. In reality I’m really struggling with my faith. The older I get, the harder it is, too.
Yes, I believe a power greater than ourselves created everything including us. Our world, this universe? It’s all too complex and elegant and much of it beautiful to be purely random.
Yes, I believe in the power of good thoughts – that we literally send vibrations out into the world and they can be good or bad – and I’m a person who genuinely wishes well on my fellow man so I try hard to emit positive vibes all the time to everyone let alone to specific people and situations that warrant an extra flood of love.
I hear the Bible talk about how we all have talents we shouldn’t hide, and I interpret that to mean God gives us great means to care for ourselves and so we should, and we shouldn’t worry about whether we can do it – be like the lily in the field in that regard.
I’m well aware I do have so much going for me, and since God seems to ignore me when I do appeal to him (maybe because the lessons I’ve learned in life is that whatever I want is truly entirely up to me to go get), I don’t see the point of prayer other than to give thanks. Giving thanks is something I do. Prayers of thanks don’t do much to heal a broken heart, I’ve learned, but I give thanks anyway.
Over the years I’ve spoken to different priests about this. One of them has even agreed with my approach to not ask God for anything. He suggested that I simply engage in conversation with him by giving thanks and saying, “hi”. To be honest, that didn’t do much to help me grow closer to God.
My friend challenged me to answer the question, “What does Jesus mean to me?” and that’s when I truly bristled. I know what the “right” answer is. Yes, he is God’s son who died for our sins. But aren’t we all God’s children? And yes, he was innocent, but um…aren’t there hundreds of examples of innocents who die even more horrific deaths at the hands of evil? Examples that flood our smart phones on a daily basis? I’m really struggling with how the events of two millennia ago relate to me, today. I wonder what in the world is wrong with me that I don’t feel the connection that apparently every other Christian does.
It all feels so strange. In a year when my convert husband was elected president of our church, I find myself pulling away more and more. I have learned the hard way that some things are unknowable. This feels like one of them.
I’m ashamed to admit it. My sisters don’t have this crisis of faith. My old friend was likely very disheartened to hear my position – you see, he’s grown much closer to God over the years. I found myself unable to relate.
On one hand I admire people who are steadfast and strong in their faith but I really struggle – more than I should – to relate to them. You see, I put my trust in prayer and God for years, yet when I reflected on what came of it, I felt abandoned, not loved. I find myself reluctant to get stung like that again, especially when I have always tried to be a good person. Nowadays, I trust myself far more than an unseen, invisible, presumably benevolent force. The Bible even warns us about these very things, yet here I am. I guess that’s arrogance at its worst.
This isn’t to say I haven’t asked for prayers over the years. I can count on one hand how many times I have legitimately asked for prayers among my family and friends. One of those times, even my sister commented that it must be something weighing very heavy on my heart for me to ask for help. And you know what? I still struggled. I don’t know that it helped.
And maybe my current perspective is exactly why I’m struggling with happiness. The irony is not lost on me.
Strange, isn’t it? They say confession is good for the soul. Perhaps. I’m just baring mine so that others don’t feel quite so alone if they’re struggling with the same thing. Quite possibly this is what it means to be a broken Christian. I never claimed to be without sin.