Posted by: serrels | June 7, 2010

Like a Prayer?

I felt like a dark cloud, but I didn’t want to rain on the parade.

She had just gotten through an operation. She’d just left the hospital with a clean bill of health, the congregation were crying ‘Amen’. They had worried about her, they had prayed for her, and now she was safe, back in Church, back amongst friends.

It was a beautiful thing.

There was applause. Broad smiles. I was smiling too, but on the outside. Inside I had a twisting in my gut I couldn’t explain. A feeling I can only describe it as a tension of conflict – the feeling of between torn between two ideas, and the guilt of understanding that what I believed wasn’t necessarily a very nice thing.

The woman was addressing the Church. She was thanking God; thanking the congregation for their prayers, paying tribute to the power of prayer. Prayer had gotten her through this difficult time, God had answered her prayers.

But just a few days before I had read a study that showed prayer actually had a negative effect on patients going into surgery; that it was more likely to do harm than good, particularly if the patient was aware people were praying for them. Of course, there have been studies that claimed the opposite, and studies that showed prayer had no effect at all, but at that moment, when everyone was in the process of having their beliefs powerfully affirmed, I was questioning myself.

I wondered if the prayer had any effect at all. I wondered if it made things worse? I wondered if there was something perverse in thanking God instead of the Doctors who had spent hours in surgery giving this woman a second chance at life.

Most of all I just felt guilty for questioning these people and their genuine happiness. For raining on the parade.

But the strange thing is, despite questioning, deep down I think I understand the power of prayer. It’s a function that transcends belief, or lack of belief. When all hope is lost, in our lowest moments of despair, it is our instinct to pray, to appeal to something unknown. Even if it makes us hypocrites, people will pray.

I know I have. And I think everyone has, at least once.

My wife is always encouraging me to pray – apparently it helps you let go of things you can’t control, it’s meditative, it stimulates a positive non-selfish part of the brain. The cynical among you will probably wonder about her motivations, but she said something interesting to me once, she said: you don’t have to believe in God to pray; you just have to believe in prayer.

And even if I don’t believe in God, maybe I could find it in myself to believe in prayer.



  1. I have a question though… If you dont believe in God then who/what is your prayer addressed to?

    I have had my wife ask me to pray, but I just cant get over the ‘who am i praying to’ part to actually get down to praying. I dont acknowledge the Christian god(s), but like you I attend church to give my wife company and to keep my parents at bay.


    you can get into the studies from there, basically prayer useless. there are a few that hint at “feel good factor” might be good for you and others that “it must be bad – they are praying for me” factor.

    BVG you dont acknowledge the Christian god, interesting, many do and many don’t acknowledge, interesting – god should really exist before anyone actually acknowledges him/her/it
    the idea of a community helping each other i do agree with, i was a 7da once and i miss the community part, dont miss the delusions though. the having to agree with dogma part was stifling to the brain

  3. As a believer, I pray to God and I believe He hears my prayers. But really prayer is just communication. I see it like talking to a friend, except the friend is really magnificently awesome!
    I pray about everything, my problems, the things I’m happy about, about how that person at work is gonna get a punch in a second if they don’t stop annoying me. When it comes to my problems and things I stress about I feel genuine relief after praying about it and leaving it with God. Studies or not that is what I feel. I don’t worry about them and things work out just fine.

    Then what is prayer to the unbeliever. Is it just a conversation with yourself? If that makes you feel better than whats the harm?
    If you prayed to God believing in Him or not what would you say?

  4. This I hate.
    Miracle recoveries, narrow escapes from certain death: all thanks to the power of prayer.
    Do you really think there’s some magical wizard granting wishes from the stratosphere? I guess he must have been on the can when entire families were burning alive in the Victorian bushfires, or when half the population of South East Asia were being sucked into the ocean during the Boxing Day Tsunami. Do you mean to tell me none of those people were praying for rescue?
    How can someone praying and subsequently avoiding death affirm these people’s belief in God, yet someone praying and still dying has nil effect on said beliefs? It’s an offensive double standard.

  5. Just read the widow of the Chubb guard shot and killed yesterday “used to pray every night he would come home safely from work.”
    I’d say prayer has failed somewhat here.

  6. I think prayer has a lot to do with faith. If you don’t believe that God can help you then why are you praying?
    I think the problem is that we notice all the bad things in life and say “Where are you, God?” and we question the good things. Prayer’s about about believing. God will reward your faith. (reward isn’t the right word to be using but it’ll have to do)

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