Saturday, August 02, 2008

Desperate Prayers

I think that in times of extreme desperation, most people pray. Sometimes the prayers are nothing more than jumbled thoughts or words, sometimes they're formal and flowery, full of scripture. I think even the most hardened people pray at some point in their lives. I'm Catholic, but I went to college with a woman who was a few years older than me, and a self-proclaimed Atheist--and when I say Atheist, I mean Atheist in the most extreme sense of the word.

But I'll never forget during senior year, when she took time off to have her first baby. When she came back, she had shared how something had gone terribly wrong during the delivery and for several days, things were touch and go for her tiny baby boy. Nobody was sure if he was going to make it. She told me that she remembered standing outside of the NICU, looking at him, attached to wires and tubes, struggling to take each breath. And she found herself thinking and sometimes even out loud, begging, pleading, bargaining and bartering with someone or something that wasn't there. She just wanted her son to be okay. She said, "I don't know what I was doing. It's not like anyone was listening. The doctors were doing what they could, and it must have worked, because he's fine now."

I remember giving her a strange look and saying, "You were begging, pleading, bargaining and bartering with someone or something that wasn't there. I've gotta tell you, that sounds an awful lot like praying to me."

She went into a monologue about how she's not religious and doesn't believe in anything but fact. I smiled and said, "Well, it's a fact that you were desperate for your son to be okay and you were pleading for it. And he's fine now. Maybe God was answering your prayers."

I watched her face slowly change and could almost see the light bulb blink on over her head as she considered my words. "Maybe..." she said.

What got me thinking about all of this is the result of a book I started reading. I'm an avid reader and I'll read just about anything I can get my hands on. I don't always enjoy what I read (the current book being a good example), but I typically find something that jumps out at me, even if I'm not enjoying it.

This comes from the novel Disobedience by Naomi Alderman:

When the attendant took them down to the mikvah pool Esti had spoken secretly with the Almighty. She had said: "Please, Lord, cleanse me and make me whole. [...] I will be different." [...] In recent years, though, she was only able to utter the first word of her prayer. "Please," she would say in her heart as she entered the water, "please." Each time, she wanted to continue the prayer, but did not know what to request.

I think about the number of times I've prayed, but the prayer seems aimless, like I can't grasp exactly what it is that I'm praying for. I think those are the dark hours, when the prayers are desperate, that I'm grateful God knows my heart. On the days when all I can utter is the word, "Please," I know that God knows exactly what it is I'm praying for and why I'm praying for it.

The times I've whispered, "Please," as my daughter sits in the middle of the night, barely able to take a breath, as my husband and I fumble with her medication to bring her some relief...when the load I'm carrying seems too heavy...when a migraine has me in its grip and tentacles of pain are squeezing my head...when I'm angry and struggling to keep my temper in check...when my husband is having a bad day at work...each time I meet with a client who is in the throes of human suffering...each time, I just whisper, "Please," and I know God is listening.

And you know what? I think He listens to everyone. I believe in my heart that all prayers are answered. Granted, it's not always the answers we need or want, but they are answered, which is why I keep praying, no matter what.


Jenny said...

Romans 8:26
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."

Great Post, Martha!


this was a wonderful post even though it was with need and help..remember he is carrying you and your daughter and your husband in times of gasping breaths.