Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Power of Prayer

by Tory Butterworth

A friend of mine saw a cartoon posted on someone's door. It shows a speaker at a convention of clergyman saying, "And now, let us pray. And for you Unitarians out there, do whatever you Unitarians do . . ."

I was raised a Unitarian. For those of you unfamiliar with the religion, not all Unitarians are atheists, but some of them sure are. My mom and dad were both agnostics, which meant (for them), "I'm pretty sure there's nothing out there but I'm not willing to stake my life on it." My mother's mother, on the other hand, was a tried-and-true atheist. She was damn sure there was no God!

I was taught as a child that Jesus was a great man but not the son of God, any more than we are all (metaphorically) sons and daughters of God. Comparisons with other great men, such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., then ensued.

But around 30 I began questioning my agnostic upbringing, and after much personal inquiry, decided I did believe in God. And I pray. And I see results of my prayers.

I sometimes pray as the "treatment of last resort" with my clients. What do I find? That God sends answers, but his/her/its ways are still mysterious, and that they rarely work out exactly as we expect.

A case in point.

One woman, very shortly after becoming a client of mine, decided to have gastric bypass surgery (colloquially known as stomach stapling.) I have to admit, I am not able to maintain my usual professional detachment about this procedure. Among my friends, I call it, "surgical bulimia."

Still, it's not my job as a therapist to make a decision for my clients. I merely encouraged her to take her time, allow our work to progress, and consider her alternatives before she engaged in this irreversible procedure.

No go. The woman was going under the knife.

The week before the procedure, she had a big fight with the friend who was taking her to the hospital and said she was going alone (a typical pattern for her.) I spent most of a session trying to suggest alternatives, but she was adamant.

Having used up my other resources as a therapist, I prayed. I was hoping that her insurance would not approve the surgery. But God had other ideas in mind.

Three days before her surgery, my client attended her class in publishing children's books. The professor brought in a speaker to talk about the book she had written on, get this, her own gastric bypass surgery. My client later commented, "Even I saw this as a sign from God."

My client talked to the speaker after class, explaining she was having the same surgery later that week. The author asked who was going with her. When my client said, "No one," the speaker announced, "I'm going with you!"

Whenever I tell this story, people always ask how it "ended." My client completed the gastric bypass, with more personal support than she had anticipated. She lost a large amount of weight (I think it was close to 100 pounds.) This enabled her to get into a very dysfunctional romantic relationship, and she started blaming all her problems on her partner. When I suggested her own behaviors might be causing some of her problems, she ended therapy with me.

Like I say, the ways of God are not our ways . . .

Do you believe in prayer?


Annette said...

I definitely believe in prayer and all its different forms. At the risk of sounding like an old country song, I also believe that sometimes God's greatest gift is the unanswered prayer. Or more accurately, the prayer that isn't answered in quite the manner we want.

Lately the prayer I've been uttering the most frequently is the request for strength and that one always seems to get answered.

Christa M. Miller said...

Absolutely I believe in prayer. I've been praying since I was 13 - almost 20 years. I can honestly say every one has been answered - whether yes or no - and in every situation, what God had in mind for me was much, much better than what I had in mind for myself.

In fact, right now we are dealing with wanting to move south. Family members are laying heavy pressure on us, but nothing has come up that makes it seem right. I see small prayers being answered, but not this big one... it's like God telling me He hears me and will follow through, just not right now! It's hard to accept, though, only because it's hard to make ends meet where we currently are.

One thing I do struggle with is religion. My experiences have been both good and bad, but nothing so wonderful - right now - that it makes me feel like I can be closer to God, as other churchgoers claim. All in due time, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Having been raised Roman Catholic, I have a hard time understanding Unitarians. I believe in God but don't belong to any particular church -- the experience of Catholic school made me very wary of organized religion and its adherents. The Unitarians keep the organized religion but without God, kind of like thowing out the baby and keeping the cold slimy bathwater. [My Unitarian friends disagree. They see their religion as a social structure that helps them lead useful lives, working for the good of humanity, rather than just living selfishly.]

I often prayed for my clients when I represented individuals, with results much like Tory's. Now I usually pray for the best possible outcome for all concerned, and let God figure out what that is.

Anonymous said...

Annette: that's a prayer that doesn't go out of style!

Anonymous said...

Christa: yes, God and religion are two quite different things! I think it's partly because different people have such different needs in a religious community. And partly because no two people think alike.

Anonymous said...

Gina: After giving up on Unitarianism once I got into college, I returned to it two years ago. For all the years in betweeen, I sort of felt like you do: Why do I need another organization to make my life miserable? Now, all I can say is, "Unitarianism is very different than I thought it was." Ask me to explain further, and I can't really. (Shame on me as a writer!) I just know I'm getting something out of it that's very different from the other groups I'm in, and worth the time and energy.

Joyce Tremel said...

I definitely believe in prayer. I've seen so many prayers answered. Just this year, my great-nephew who is 18 years old, had his hearing restored. He's been deaf since he was a baby.

I'm Roman Catholic and a church-goer. I belong to a really great parish--we're a family of about 5000 people.

I believe God always answers prayers, but sometime His answer is "no." And sometimes it's "not yet."

Anonymous said...

The ways of Spirit are indeed mysterious, but it makes the journey more interesting. I agree that prayer works, working with angels, meditation, etc. You're such a spiritual person, I was surprised to hear about your past, Tory. You're great no matter how you got here.

Anonymous said...

Tory, wonderful post, I struggle with organized religion. How can something meant to be positive be so harmful in the wrong hands? I also love Joyce's comment. Sometimes He says yes, sometimes He says "not yet." Wow, this post is so timely; in my WIP I have a protagonist affected in childhood by religion who now wants no part of it. You (or maybe a Higher Power? )showed me one way she can resolve the issue:) Thanks, Tory.

Anonymous said...

Joyce: Wow, your great-nephew's story sounds amazing! Did it happen as a result of a medical intervention? Do tell us more!

Cathy: I think I'm very spiritual, in part, because I wasn't forced into it. I was allowed the freedom to develop my own answers.

Donnell: always glad to be of help! You might also want to read the book _When God Becomes a Drug_ by Father Leo Booth. It's all about spiritual addiction and abuse.

Joyce Tremel said...

Tory, my nephew's hearing was damaged from having so many ear infections as a baby. He was able to hear very loud noises, or if you talked right into his face, he could kind of hear. He was "legally deaf." The doctors said it was permanent and nothing could be done. Several months ago he went to a healing service at his church and when the minister laid his hands on DJ, he could instantly hear. It was confirmed by his doctors, who don't quite know what to make of it.

Just to show that organized religion isn't always restrictive and stodgy, our parochial vicar's favorite movie is Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Anonymous said...

What a great story, Joyce!

Unknown said...

Without question I believe in prayer. The power of God has manifested itself too many times in my life to deny it.