Why prayer is a problem

This is the first in a series of posts about prayer. Join me in looking at what we like about prayer, what we dislike, and how we should respond!

Prayer and wish chips

When I was little I used to search the chip packet for wish chips. Chips in general were rare, and those double folded chips were even rarer. When you ate them you were meant to make a wish. Like wish bones in chickens and blowing out birthday candles.

I still don’t know where I got the idea from.

Nevertheless, without fail I would make a wish each time I crunched a wish chip. I wished for the same thing every time.

I wished for my mum to be healed.

Now even if you had asked me then, I would have said I didn’t really believe in wishes… but I couldn’t not try. Not if there was the faintest chance my wish would come true.

For a lot of us (even if it’s subconsciously) we think the same thing about praying for healing.

We can’t not try.

As I got older I begun to feel that ‘wishing’ was wrong, but superstitiously couldn’t stop, and so instead began to pray each time I crunched a wish chip. It was the same prayer every time.

I prayed for my mum to be healed.

It’s a prayer and a wish that has not yet been answered in any shape or form.

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Wait! I feel guilty.

They are sick and I am not.

I can leave the house. They cannot.

I can eat anything I want. They must not.

Guilt is an emotion that it is easy to struggle with after a diagnosis of chronic illness. When we as Watchers see how the illness is impacting our Loved One’s lives, and envision how it will continue to impact their lives,… the guilt creeps in.

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Watching changes the world

Again, another seeming paradox. In the last post I proposed that Watching cannot change anything… and now I’m telling you it changes the world.

Watching is a complex beast.

Both are true. Watching cannot possibly ‘fix’ our Loved One’s suffering. Nor can it redeem it in their eyes or in the eyes of others. Watching is not an answer to the ‘Problem of Pain’ and should never masquerade as one.

Does that mean Watching is unimportant? Useless? A waste of time? A period of life to be disregarded or belittled?

Not at all. A spoon is not pointless because it cannot cut my toast. It is merely being used for the wrong purpose.

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Watching changes nothing

It is a blunt title, and yet… it’s true.

Watching changes absolutely nothing.

Nil. Zero. Nought.

That, my friends, is the reality. As Watchers, we are not needed. We cannot actually do anything. Life goes on and we Watch, and nothing changes.

If there was a list entitled ‘how to change the world’, Watching wouldn’t be on there.

Try as we might, we cannot fix the situation. We can’t heal our Loved Ones. We can’t be their knight in shining armour and swoop down onto the battle field and sweep them off their feet and carry them to safety.

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It’s just not possible. If wishes were horses beggars would ride. But they’re not, so instead we crawl through the mud and swear when we tumble into a pit and lose sight of our Loved One. Illness and circumstance are some of Life’s non-negotiables. We are not God. Watching changes nothing, except perhaps ourselves.

We cannot carry their burdens

Not only can we not save them, but we cannot even bear their burdens beside them. I touched on this in the first post, and it is still true. We can help them, we can aid them, we can take care of all their physical needs – but in the end they alone must bear their illness. They must go down into valley of darkness in their own strength, not ours. As Sam tells Frodo in Tolkien’s The Return of the King: “I can’t carry it for you.”

Watching doesn’t make their sufferings special

Thirdly, our presence does not sanctify their sufferings. There’s a sort of unspoken belief at times that when people suffer they somehow do so for the people around them. That they become An Example and in doing so their sufferings become worthwhile. Yet individuals do not suffer ‘for the (unknown) greater good’ in this sense, and it is risky to think so. As if our presence as Watchers makes something horrific acceptable and provides their miseries with purpose! If only that was all it took to redeem suffering.

Let us not insult our Loved Ones. Their suffering is not made acceptable by our presence. To believe so is to belittle what they go through. It is also dangerous because it belittles the misery of those who suffer alone. Must the ‘purpose’ of suffering be so obvious as to simply be the edification of the people who watch?

John Green touches on this in The Fault in Our Stars, with Hazel and Gus’ sarcastic rejoinder: “They are an Example to us all. Oh how we admire them!”

Watching doesn’t make their suffering important

Watchers are not needed to make suffering valid. God alone makes suffering valid, and He does so in each and every case, because He uses every life for His glory. Every tear has a part in His eternal plan. If I were to suffer utterly alone, in the deepest depths of the earth, if not one living purpose heard my cries, there would still be a purpose to it. After all, what humans do not see, spiritual powers do. It is enough if angels weep and demons shudder (Ephesians 3:10). For more on this see When God Weeps, by Joni Earekson Tada.

Our helplessness is a relief

The truth that Watching changes nothing is a hard one. It is a blow to our pride. It is yet another demand for us to admit our helplessness. We cannot become proud of Watching while we remember it. We are not Saviours; we need a Saviour.

This truth is also a relief. It ought to remove some of our burden. It is not up to us to fix the life of our Loved Ones. When we fail, when we are not there when we should be, when our Loved One has to go through something alone, when we run away, when we give up, when we don’t know the answers – that is okay.

It’s not up to us.

That task is in the hands of One who is much more capable than we will ever be. While we Watch, He Does – and that is how it should be.

[If you feel this is a bit one-sided, the sequel to this post is “Watching changes everything” and is coming next week!]

//Do you find it comforting or distressing to realise that Watching changes nothing? Are you satisfied to keep Watching in light of that? Why/Why not?

Join the conversation! Comment below.

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What does the world say about sickness (PART 2)?

This is Part 2 of “What does the world say about sickness?” In the last post we looked at how we as humans respond to sickness and Watching. This post has a few more observations, and a much needed conclusion.

sickness-and-the-world

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What does the world say about sickness (PART 1)?

In the last post in this category we looked at what the Bible says about sickness, and concluded that sickness and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. We saw that the Bible has some guidelines which can help us formulate an ‘answer’ to sickness.

But we can’t stop here.

sickness-and-the-world

What does the world say?

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Help! I’m not allowed to say “it’s not fair”

Perhaps you have been here.

A knock at the door.

You answer.

It’s a friend, a neighbor. She has just popped over for a chat. She holds a covered dish: ‘Cooked a bit extra and thought you could do with a home cooked meal’. She asks how we are, how our Loved One is. She complains for a while about her work, and how tired she is from the high tea she went to on the weekend. She has another date with friends in a few days but unfortunately it coincides with the birthday of a family member. ‘It’s always the way isn’t it? Everything at once, so frustrating.’

She shifts on the door step. ‘Ah well, no rush to return the dish – we’ll be away for a few weeks. Going on a cruise. Just a small one. I’m a bit worried actually, I’m terrified I’m coming down with a cold. There’s nothing worse than a sniffly nose! Anyway, got to rush, I have a hair dressers appointment this afternoon. All the best!’

You juggle the still-warm meal and close the door, the hot smell of cheese and silver foil clouding the air. After the door is firmly shut and the neighbor out of sight, you give the wood a short, hard kick.

It’s not fair!

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