Isn’t it nice to feel like we have open communication with the decision-maker? I’m not talking about your boss, your civic leaders, or other worldly beings.
I’m talking about the grand forces that rule the universe. For my belief system, it’s God I ring up for a chat. For others, it’s some other means of tapping into a grand, intelligent energy system.
It’s good to feel like we might just be able to gain the ear of someone who can control circumstances that are otherwise a game of chance. Healing the sick, finding the “right one,” providing something to someone suffering a loss — if we’re only able to offer a prayer — the benefits of which will be nebulous, at best.
Do I believe in prayer? I had to ask myself that question just a few nights ago when I made a statement that challenged all I’d been taught.
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The recent Texas shooting had just been brought up at the dinner table with extended family. We’re a diverse group, ranging from staunch Republicans to ultra-liberals. By now I know the arguments: guns don’t kill people. Gun control won’t work. “Thoughts and prayers” spread widely after innocent people die.
I scoffed, fed up by the “thoughts and prayers” being offered as the remedy for mending this gaping portal to hell — the gun violence plaguing our nation.
“A lot of good all those thoughts and prayers are doing,” I said. “Those people were actually sitting in church. Clearly prayers aren’t doing the trick.”
My children listened. The others stared. I rose from the table, then ducked into the restroom to avoid the lightning bolt from heaven.
Had I just blasphemed? What kind of example was I setting for my kids? Had I just thrown prayer — God himself, even — under the bus?
And the deeper question: Do I, or do I not, believe in prayer? I reeled, having just invited God to rain fire and brimstone down on the dinner table.
But really, what was my crime? Because, you see, I do believe in prayer. Weirdly so. Sometimes I feel like I have a golden coin that gets me the jackpot in the prayer vending machine.
I once prayed for God to put mulch in my budget, and within a day, was offered a truckload of mulch. I’ve prayed about my career, then been presented with amazing opportunities. I’ve sought answers for my sick child, and found them.
But... There’s a great big “but” here.
But I recognize that these little nudges and boosts work in unison with my real life actions. I’ve worked hard to develop a good skill set, so I can get a good job. Just point me to the opportunity. I take my daughter to good doctors, and their training gives them solutions. And the mulch ...well, the mulch was kind of astonishing.
We can’t expect prayer to replace hard work, logic, reason and a reasonable contribution to society. Responding to gun violence with “thoughts and prayers” (and a bunch of excuses) amounts to lip service.
Supporting laws that make it easier for murderers to obtain weapons, then responding to these mass murders with “thoughts and prayers” does not strike me as a honest representation of prayer.
We do pray for help for others. We do say grace as a family before meals, thanking God for our provisions. But never will I teach my kids that prayers replace action, or relieve our responsibility or should be used to placate.
Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org