Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

28 Comments

Photo Credit: Ruth

Photo Credit: Ruth

 
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
 

Prayer.  It’s supposed to change things.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:16-18

When I was a Christian I prayed every day.  Several times throughout the day.  Before I got out of bed I started praying. I talked to my imaginary friend about, well,  everything.  I could tell him anything.  Why not?  He saw it all anyway.  It was an internal dialogue that was continually going.

Whatever thoughts I had, some scripture would come to mind for me to apply to that thought.  I was ‘taking all my thoughts captive to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

I prayed for change within myself, to become more like Christ, to be less of me and more of him.  I believed that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  In fact, I believed that the only way he could increase was for me to decrease.  I wanted there to be nothing left of me.  Slowly, over time, this did begin to happen.  I put myself away and made more of Jesus.  Or at least what I thought was Jesus:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

But I also prayed for some very real, very tangible things.  Salvation of loved ones, healing for the sick, my step-children, my then-husband, ministry opportunities.  Oh, sure, I prayed the selfish prayers too.  Though I never really expected the selfish ones to come to fruition.  I knew when I was praying selfishly.

The only prayers that were ever answered in the affirmative were the prayers to change me and the selfish prayers.  Never, in 20 plus years, were any of the prayers for salvation, healing, the suffering in the world or other non-selfish prayers answered in the affirmative.

I consoled myself on the healing prayers with platitudes about it not being God’s will.  I told myself and others that the person who died from their ailment received perfect healing rather than divine healing.

The lack of affirmative answers on prayers of salvation were always the most perplexing to me.  If it is God’s will that all should be saved and that none should perish, then why would that prayer not be answered?  At least some of the time?  It wasn’t for a lack of my attempting to evangelize them.  I didn’t just pray about it.  So then I would console myself in the knowledge that I had planted a seed and it was God’s job to water it.

I consoled myself that the suffering in the world was part of God’s plan to get his people involved in his work.  That God wasn’t in the business of snapping his fingers to alleviate suffering.  He expected us to do it.  Then why aren’t we?

No, the only prayers that were ever answered in the affirmative for me were the ones that I had control over.  Not all of my selfish prayers were answered.  Only the ones I could make happen.  And as for transforming my inner self.  Well, I did that too.  Using scripture and prayer I was able to change myself until there wasn’t much left of me.

So when I began to doubt, to question, and to learn that maybe everything I had once believed wasn’t true, it was somewhat of a relief to learn that the reason my prayers weren’t answered wasn’t because God didn’t care.  It wasn’t because God was ignoring me.  It wasn’t because I had some secret sin in my life that I had wracked my brain to find which was prohibiting God from hearing me.

It was because imaginary friends just aren’t very powerful in the lives of others.

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28 thoughts on “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

  1. Serendipity that my Sunday post is also about prayer and healing/miracles. Though a little bit more acerbic than yours! ( as we would expect from the Ark I guess)

  2. Oh, that is a gorgeous photo by the way!

  3. Reblogged this on Christianity Simplified and commented:
    The power of prayer – and the powerlessness of prayer. An example of how prayer is more centred around your own thoughtfulness and direction.

  4. Ruth, I gotta tell ya. I’m feeling like a REAL heathen – this last week I’ve had two people tell me that on blogs – “I’m praying for you!”. It gives the air of benevolence to the person uttering it, I suppose, but you know and I know it’s a way of suggesting the person is doing something when they actually aren’t doing one damn thing.

    Of course, to the believer, this would be considered blasphemy. So that makes me a heathen AND a blasphemer. . . and on Sunday, no less!

    • It gives the air of benevolence to the person uttering it, I suppose, but you know and I know it’s a way of suggesting the person is doing something when they actually aren’t doing one damn thing.

      I suppose it depends on the context of the utterance. Sometimes it’s an air of benevolence, but sometimes it’s an air of superiority.

      You know, “Thank you lord, that I am not like the tax collector.”

    • ““I’m praying for you!”.”

      Carmen, I’ve heard that a lot throughout my life. Examples: I was widowed with a small child, and disabled for two years due to a back injury, followed by surgery. I was unable to work, not allowed to work until I was released by the doctors. I found it insulting that people would tell me they were praying for me but would do nothing to help (even in the simplest of ways) when they could. I also experienced this same behavior when my daughter was 18 months old, hospitalized with double pneumonia, in an oxygen tent in critical condition. They were praying for me and her, but did they ever help out financially, etc? Nope.

      Clouds without rain.

      I can attest that when I was a Christian and told others I was praying for them, my actions spoke louder than words.

      • “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17). You can hear the sarcasm here and it is deserved. If I were not guilty of many times not doing what I should for others I would criticize those Christians whose faith was apparently dead, or at least ones who had not been taught the letter James wrote to tell us how living faith must be expressed in practical love for others. As it is I will express a hope that your life is better now than it was then.

        • “As it is I will express a hope that your life is better now than it was then.”

          Waltsamp, thank you so much. As an unbeliever, it is definitely better now than it was then, as a believer. :)

          I think I would have been better off had I been divorced rather than widowed. Scripture states that Christians are to “refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith.” 1 Timothy 5:9-12

          Paul stated that a widow under sixty should not be “put on the list” — should not receive charity. I was 27 at the time my husband passed away. My daughter was an infant. To add insult to injury, it further states: 13 “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.

          So much for love and not judging others. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • I go a bit spare when I read/hear people say that to me. Unless they are praying I win the lotto or something.

  5. I prayed a few times, I don’t think they were ever answered.
    The moment when I should have really kicked the god story out was at the end of high school. I don’t remember my classmates ever praying as hard as they did during the exam period. I realized at this point it didn’t matter how hard one prayed, if you had not read, your goose was cooked.

    • That’s the thing with prayer, isn’t it? People pray, pray, pray, but they don’t really expect God to do anything. They know if something’s gotta be done they’d better crack on and do it themselves – or ask for appropriate real help.

  6. Ruth, I appreciate this post, and can really relate. Your last paragraph reminds me of the enormous burden — heaviness that lifted from me when I came to that same conclusion. Well said.

    • Thanks, Victoria. It was such a relief to me that the reason people were dying of diseases and suffering horrible deaths wasn’t because I was doing something to keep God from hearing my prayers.

      Now I see the futility in it, really. Why do I even need to pray about such things? Surely if there is an omnipresent God he can see it for himself.

      • So true, Ruth — it was a huge relief for me as well — like the weight of the world was lifted from my inner most being. I used to beat myself up for being so gullible, trusting, naive, until I learned about brain plasticity and the power of religious indoctrination which contributes to a deactivation of neural circuity to certain regions of the frontal lobes.

  7. From the last chapter of my book:

    I also enjoyed being able to use God as my personal “genie in a bottle” whenever I wanted or needed something. My requests were sometimes as mundane as asking for a promotion, the signal lights to all be green when I was rushed, or my kids to behave when we had company. On other occasions, my petitions were more serious, like coping with the death of a loved one, healing for myself or a friend, dealing with some kind of disaster, or simply asking God to intervene in a crisis.

    On the more ordinary issues, I was naturally disappointed if God didn’t respond, but on critical, sometimes life-threatening matters, I had a difficult time understanding why God hadn’t moved on my behalf. Especially when the Bible says in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given you …” and in Matthew 21:22 (NKJV), “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Even Luke (11:10) writes, “For everyone who asks receives …” As might be expected, church leaders always seemed to have a myriad of reasons why prayers sometimes go unanswered, although I often felt many of them sounded more like rationalizations than bona fide explanations.

    But now I ask … what else can you expect from an imaginary friend?

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  9. “I wanted there to be nothing left of me. Slowly, over time, this did begin to happen.”

    ‘Lots of opportunities for self-fulfilling “prophecy” to work when it comes to the Christian philosophy. Utterly gut-wrenching.

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