An essay donated by Michael Brandon
"Prayer: Growing up"
Prayer has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. In fact, the first moment in my life that I can remember was of me and my mother praying before she tucked me into my warm bed.
Growing older, I’ve had to reexamine the role that prayer plays in my life.
In college, as a philosophy major, I was obsessed with whether or not prayer actually worked. I had prayed throughout my entire youth, and I wanted to know whether or not I had wasted my time. Luckily, some scientists were on the job. In 2006, one of the largest studies on intercessory prayer came out. The study measured the effect of intercessory prayer on high risk heart surgeries, specifically Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG). The verdict:
"Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.”
Crap. I had been lied to, and by my mother of all people.
My faith in prayer, and in God in general, was at risk of going the way of the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. Prayer may just be yet another childish thing that needed putting away. After all, this study seemed to debunk the very type of prayer that seemed most important. Prayer that was meant to save other peoples lives.
I remember researching healing prayers when my aunt was diagnosed with cancer, submitting prayer requests, and organizing prayer groups. She went into remission briefly before finally submitting to the disease two years later. To add insult to injury, the study found that if the patient was aware they were being prayed for, they were at a higher risk for complications.
So, what was to be done? I needed to pray on it.
I eventually decided to forgo prayer for a three month period to see how my life was affected. Would there be any noticeable difference to my quality of life? It was weird at first. I would some times start to pray without realizing what I was doing. If God does indeed listen to prayers he got a lot from me around that time that sounded like this:
"Lord, please grant me the... Oh crap. Umm... scratch that. I’m cool."
At the end of my self-inflicted spiritual fast, I realized a couple things about myself and my relationship with prayer. First, I realized that I really missed praying. The actual act. Those few moments where you organize your thoughts and needs, and take stock of your life. I also missed the ritual. Going to bed I felt like I had forgotten to brush my teeth, or like I forgot to turn the oven off. It was harder to fall asleep.
I also realized that it didn’t matter to me whether or not prayer "worked." If a prayer never left my own mind, that was OK. Inside my head is where praying does the most good anyway. It calms me, and helps me to make my own goals clearer. That’s why "prayers for strength" are my favorite type of prayer. You’re asking God for the strength to make positive changes in your life, or to weather those inevitable rough patches we all experience at one point or another. I will go read other peoples prayers for strength and give them encouragement. After all, does it really matter so much where your strength ends up coming from? Does it matter if it comes from God, a stranger, or even yourself?
All I really want form prayer is a clearer path towards being a better person. I still believe that prayer helps me achieve this effectively, even as my belief in God has become less certain. Would I still feel this way if I had not been raised with daily prayer? Probably not. Though I think I would still seek out that daily moment of concentrated thought and peace. Perhaps yoga or meditation would have worked just as well.
For now, I still pray. I just have a more mature view of what I’m accomplishing. But, I have to say, it still feels as warm and comfortable as my childhood bed.