Prayer Warriors

prayer

A guest post by ObstacleChick

There are a lot of people from my Evangelical past with whom I am connected on social media. A few of them never post anything at all that is religious. It is clear that some folks left Evangelicalism for a more progressive, inclusive Christianity. But there are quite a few who are still deeply rooted in Evangelical churches and beliefs. The majority of those who are still deeply rooted in Evangelicalism are also politically conservative. Not only are some of these folks posting about hell, but they are also supporting gun ownership, anti-immigration sentiment, and anti-abortion stances. Sometimes when I can’t take it anymore, I unfollow people.

All the Christians that I know believe in the power of prayer. They are convinced that their deity wants to hear from them and wants to help them with their issues, provided of course that the person praying is “right with God” and that whatever the person is asking is within God’s will. I don’t know any Christians who would state with certainty that they are “right with God” or that they know conclusively what is God’s will, but they certainly do throw their prayers out there in case all the right circumstances converge to produce the desired outcome. It’s a little like playing the lottery, except with the lottery someone will actually receive a payout at some point.

As someone who no longer believes in deities or the power of prayer, it is interesting to me to see what Christians post on social media when they are seeking a desired outcome to a situation. Some will post a cryptic notice to their “prayer warrior” friends that there is a situation requiring prayer. Inevitably, dozens of people will respond “praying,” while some include heart or praying hands emoticons. Others will post a specific event for which they would like their friends to pray, typically something to do with illness or financial/employment situation. The posts regarding cancer or terminal illness are the most heartbreaking for me to read, as the person posting often will state that they are putting their loved one’s well-being (or their own well-being as the case may be) in the hands of their deity. All of them do seek the best medical care that they can find or afford, so at least they are aware that physical treatments are necessary to treat disease. However, they ask for prayers for “getting an appointment soon,” “getting treatment right away,” “seeing the best doctor,” and so forth. Picking up the phone and talking with someone who can actually make that happen for you might be a better option than talking to an invisible deity and asking all your friends to talk to an invisible deity.

I feel for those who are reaching out for prayers. They are afraid, concerned, sometimes grasping with their last hope that their deity will show favor and perform a miracle to rectify the situation. Yet I just cannot bring myself to say that I am “praying.” I have not prayed in many years, even before I acknowledged that I was an atheist and no longer believed in any deities. I believe that if I say I am praying that it is a lie even though it is an expected response that might make the person feel better.

What prompted this post is seeing a series of posts from Evangelical Christians over the past few months regarding illness and death. A friend’s mother died after deciding to discontinue chemotherapy as her cancer had progressed too far. Another friend’s father died after years of cancer and remission; he was a pastor, which goes to show that the Evangelical deity does not favor his mouthpieces when it comes to cancer. Yet another person posted that her husband was experiencing unexplained blindness for which doctors, after several months of tests, have not found the root cause. My sister-in-law’s year-old grand-niece suffered a seizure, and doctors could find nothing long-term wrong with her. Another friend just posted yesterday that his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and is starting radiation therapy today. And the most heartbreaking of all is a friend whose husband had surgery for a glioblastoma, was sent to Duke Medical Center to be evaluated for an experimental program, and the day before the appointment, was rushed to Duke where doctors performed emergency brain surgery to alleviate swelling where a new faster-growing glioblastoma has taken root. It took several days for the family to secure transport back home to Georgia so he could begin radiation treatment.

All of these people asked for prayers, and they received hundreds of responses such as “praying” or “praying for you,” or longer versions that include some sort of Bible verse and “praying,” or a long-winded monologue “lifting you up in the name of our Lord and Healer Jesus Christ.” Very few people actually offered something useful in return.

What I did notice was that hardly anyone who posted responded to those who commented “praying,” but everyone responded to my comments which usually involved saying that I hoped their medical team could find out what was wrong or made some other comment that had nothing to do with Jesus or prayer. My comments gave them the opportunity to express their thankfulness for their medical teams and to explain what had been accomplished so far. My goal when commenting was to show empathy, and I suppose that was also a goal of those who responded that they were “praying.” The difference is that I know and accept that there is very little actionable that I can accomplish to help these people with their issues while those who pray think they are doing something important and useful by appealing to their supposedly omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity. If the person does show improvement or recovery, the deity is thanked and held responsible for the “great things he has done.” Sometimes the medical team is thanked, but they are typically an afterthought in the process. And if the outcome is not favorable, then it is attributed to “God’s will, praise His name, glory hallelujah.”

In closing, I would like to mention the way a nonreligious friend is posting on social media about her husband’s bout with a brain tumor. They were on vacation in Italy when he collapsed. Hospital tests showed he had a brain tumor that required immediate surgery. When he returned to the US, he started radiation and physical therapy. All of her posts have been pictures of her husband with his medical team, with physical therapists, with friends and family who have visited, with many thanks for these professionals, family, and friends who are working with him. Not once did she mention a deity or ask for prayers.

If you are nonreligious, how do you deal with people asking you to pray for them regarding an issue? Do you tell them you are praying, or do you do as I do and mention how you are thinking of them and hope they have good resources? I would be interested to hear other ways that might convey empathy.

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18 Comments

  1. Cyndi

    Hi Obstacle Chick, Bruce and others! This is my first comment since I “found” Bruces’ blog several months ago while searching Fibromyalgia (FM) posts. I have had FM since the birth of my first child in 1976. I was diagnosed in 1982 (FM was called fibrositis or fibromyositis at that time) and have since developed several other chronic pain conditions. I am 64 and live in Union, SC (I did not know Susan Smith and was living in NC when she drowned her children). Living in the Bible Belt, the great majority of folks are Evangelical Trump supporters. I have 2 sons and 2 grandsons. My youngest grandson lives with me, he turned 15 last week and the oldest is here on weekends and through the summer. He will be 17 in August. I am divorced and have been “living in sin” with my partner/boyfriend for 19 years, however there is no sinning going on. lol When I thought about going to my childhood church with my mother after several requests from older members to come sing, my mother shared that the preacher informed a divorced neighbor and childhood friend that was cohabitating with her boyfriend and driving the church bus that they were not allowed to hold any positions in the church unless they were married I decided I did not need the judgement. I attended a small Baptist Church before my divorce and served as youth and childrens choir director, taught Sunday school and training union, was youth leader, sang with groups and solos and was adult choir director for 6 months. Our life was church. I have attended church a handful of times in the past 25 years. My loss of faith has been gradual but I have definitely become a NONE or whatever partially fueled by Christian hate, Evangelical support for “sent by God Trump” and Facebook (FB). I have been on a self imposed sebattical from FB for the past 6 months. While checking out FB a few days ago, I learned that a childhood/classmate and former church member lost her mother to Alzheimers. She had posted journal entries/pages of a memory book of her moms journey that was sad and heartwarming for the past year. Naturally, she asked for prayer. I knew I had to comment and debated what I should say in lieu of her prayer request. I could have easily “played along with others response of “praying” but I could not bring myself to do so. I thanked her for sharing her journey through her moms devastating illness and told her what a great,loving and caring daughter she had been etc.. I told her that I hoped she could find peace in the days ahead adjusting to life without her mother but I could not bring myself to say “praying”. It was the first time in my confusing journey of unbelief to face such a comment. Obstacle Chick, I have enjoyed reading your posts and comments over the last few months. Bruce, you are a gifted writer whose words have brought comfort during my transition. I no longer wake up thinking I’m going to hell, lol, though I’m not completely rid of my indoctrination. Living in small town SC, I am not your typical NONE, atheist, agnostic or whatever label I am, but it is no longer Christian. I no longer have anything in common with anyone around me. I cannot announce my unbelief as my sons and ex would try to keep my grandchildren away from me, though neither want anything to do with their dads. They already think I am crazy because I do not hold any of their views and I don’t beat my grandsons asses. And now I can’t say Lord help me. I have wanted to comment before but I knew I could not “wow you with my words” lol, now, with my Fibrofog and cognitive decline, I am attempting to comment at 4:00 am when I should be sleeping. I hope I didn’t ramble too badly. (I said I wayyyy too much!! Sorry, I haven’t written in years except for a few comments about politics.
    Cyndi
    Blue Nana in a Red, Evangelical State

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Cyndi, thank you for sharing your story! I cannot imagine living in the Bible Belt as a nonbeliever – being from the Bible Belt but living in NJ, I still have not revealed to my evangelical family members my lack of belief in the religion in which I was raised. It would raise a lot of obstacles, and I’m concerned that my brother would forbid us from interacting with his sons. Even here in NJ there are people who are taken aback by my use of the label “atheist” is a bit much. My 17-year-old son has found that using the term “nonreligious” elicits a less toxic response.

      It sounds like your response to your friend asking for prayers was useful and empathetic.

      Reply
  2. Karen the rock whisperer

    I can’t bring myself to say that I will pray. Usually I respond with some empathetic words, saying that I hope there will be a good outcome. Most of my friends and family members know I’m an atheist, so they probably don’t find my response unusual. No one has ever challenged me on it.

    What really makes me sad is people who are praying for a solution to a problem that they themselves could fix, if only they believed in themselves more. An example are cousins who handle money badly, but refuse to believe that acquiring good money management skills would make their lives better. So they have some financial crisis because they’re unable to build any financial buffer, they ask for prayers, some friend or family member rescues them, and they praise God for the rescue. And now they’re finding that since their kids are grown and on their own, people who helped previously were actually worried about the kids when the heater died or the car needed yet another repair, and are less likely to help now. The kicker is that now one is disabled and the other is partially disabled, they’re slipping further into poverty, and managing the income they had several years ago would have been much easier than the situation they’re in now. But they’re sure God will provide.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Karen, that’s what gets me most, when people ask for prayers when they could handle the situation themselves. Ugh. And then they give little to no credit to the humans who actually do offer help. I have a friend who was raised Muslim. Her sister would take off and abandon her children for days on end, leaving no provision for food or adults to make sure the children were safe, saying “Allah will provide”. It wasn’t Allah providing – it was her brothers and sisters who realized the children were left alone. But in this woman’s eyes, Allah was providing. Messed up, and proof that wacko fundies exist in a multitude of religions.

      Reply
  3. Diane

    “I’m praying for you” is what people say to make themselves feel better.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Exactly! They feel like they’re doing something when they aren’t.

      Reply
    2. Karen the rock whisperer

      Some people just say it, but others really do it. My mother was one such person, though she was Catholic, not Evangelical. Every night she had a long list of things to ask God for that would help those she loved. My mother-in-law does the same thing, carves out significant praying time at bedtime to pray for loved ones, though being Evangelical her praying style is much different.

      Interestingly enough, I have never heard either of these women declare that they would pray for someone or about someone. They just do it.

      Reply
  4. Jen

    I remember being in very difficult situations and having to keep a brave face, speak in faith, not doubt, etc. etc. when all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap and cry for a week, or just have a shoulder to cry on. It’s hard to watch people you love go through the same experience. All I can do is acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and try to find practical ways to help out (cook a meal, babysit, make a donation, etc.).

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Yes, finding a practical way to help when you are nearby is the best way. Now a lot of people set up “MealTrain” online so people can order food to be delivered to families, or cook and take the food, or give gift cards to local restaurants.

      Reply
  5. Carolk

    Bruce , I hope that the friend’s husband with glioblastoma will be one of the few long-term survivors. My sister has glioblastoma and it’s a muthafucki’ bitch. She had her surgery at Duke and wore an experimental Optune device on her head for about a year. She’s already lived twice as long as average for glioblastoma patients. My oldest daughter had her surgery for a benign brain tumor at Duke. Your friend’s husband could not be in better hands.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Duke definitely provides excellent care for patients with brain tumors! Thank you!

      Reply
  6. Appalachian Agnostic

    I usually say something like”I hope the surgery goes well.” Like you, I want to show concern without pretending that I can actually help the situation by praying. I think people usually appreciate it. I have a Facebook friend who was my neighbor growing up. She is a big believer in the prayer warrior chain. Ironically, her mother’s fight with breast cancer was one of the first situations that made me begin to question prayer. At the time, I attended a local Baptist church and her mother was on the prayer chain. Every week we would pray for her recovery. I sincerely hoped we were helping her. But she died. It was tough to accept that God decided to deny our request.

    About the same time, I began noticing that the weekly reading of the prayer list often served as an excuse to gossip about the people we were supposed to be helping. “Let’s all pray fo John Doe because Jane cheated on him and now he wants to get a divorce.” Or “Keep Mr. Smith in your prayers because his business is about to go bankrupt.” Every unfortunate situation would set off another round of tut tuting and “sympathy”.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Prayer lists are definitely gossip fodder! There’s a lot of tut tutting and blessing of hearts….

      Reply
  7. mary g

    don’t get me started on “prayer warriors”. in the Pentecostal movement of the 80’s this seemed to be code for someone who could/would not do anything useful or practical. it was also a way to gossip for the women under the guise of prayer requests. the things I heard as prayer requests as a young child were definitely not for children to hear but mom never thought it was bad because jesus. being a pastors kid I knew/heard things way beyond my years on a daily basis. I believe it shaped my cynicism early on and made me old before my time. now I cannot stand the thought of prayer requests or church. I literally feel sick. but for now I just nod politely or just say yes to mother via phone so I don’t start an argument w/her. this helps maintain limited contact. parents would rather keep/force their religion rather than have a real relationship on an adult basis so here we are.

    Reply
  8. Jamie

    I have a very faithful friend who’s son committed suicide with her FBI husband’s gun. I’m not sure of the circumstances, but it’s completely devastating. In the aftermath of the tragedy I wrote to her acknowledging her tremendous loss, the loss on the family, and for her and her family to find comfort in one another in the coming months and years.

    I couldn’t bring myself to lie and say I was praying. I was feeling angry and sad for them. Where was god before?!?! Why should god bother showing up now?

    I always acknowledge the prayer requester’s feelings. Sometimes I will send them some money for food. If I am close enough I will cook for them. My responses and gestures are almost always thoughtfully appreciated.

    Reply
  9. Caroline

    As a child all ‘conversation’ with a higher being felt like me talking to myself whether I was saying standard Catholic memorized prayers or really asking for something important for myself or in behalf of someone else. None of it made sense or felt real to me. I don’t get it when people talk about a personal relationship with Jesus. If it works for them, I guess it’s ok, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for the hyper religious among us to criticize those of us who never have and never will feel it as if we’re really living life wrong. I never say I’m praying for someone. I say I’m thinking of them and wishing the best. Glad to live far, far away from the Bible Belt. I don’t know how some of you did it or still manage to have relationships with judgmental religious relatives.

    Reply
  10. Autumn

    When it’s for a specific surgery I generally wish them success and a smooth and rapid recovery. The studies I’ve read about prayer and medical procedures seems to indicate that if the patient was religious, the idea that they were being prayed for caused a more hopeful attitude leading to a better outcome.

    The gossip chain is a good example of why “I’ll pray for you” irritates me. I wind up wondering exactly what outcome they’re praying for.

    Reply
  11. Ian for a long time

    I am active in several FB pages, as well as various other social media, that have to do with guns and knives. So, when people post about sickness/disability/death, almost everyone dies what Obstacle Chick has described.

    I always say that they are in my thoughts. That is the truth. People go through horrific things, things I can’t imagine. I think about them, so I can show empathy, because I believe it makes me a better person. I donate money to help with surgeries, lost wages, etc. Sometimes, large amounts of money are raised. God never just dumps it in their laps, though.

    I am happy to know that I cared enough to do something more than pray.

    Reply

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