Today’s guest post comes from Hailey Kaufman. Hailey is a student at Webster University, and her poignant post today is about prayer, grief and confusion and is dedicated to her friends Leo and Morgan.
Even having been non-religious for several years, I still have the impulse to pray on rare occasions. It’s always when I want something deeply, but know I can’t do anything about it, and it usually has to do with other people. The impulse to reach out for something powerful and immortal hits me today, as I learn of the death of two young people in my community. It always throws my identity for a loop, and I search to understand why it happens.
The last time I remember praying was when my grandpa was in the hospital for two months, on and off a ventilator, as he picked up one infection after another. It was extremely hard on my family and me, causing tension, confusion, and a dash of insanity in all of us. I remember busting down into tears upon hearing for the fourth or fifth time that his condition was deteriorating, that he’d be on a ventilator again. I was alone screaming obscenities and fury-crying as I punched whatever cushions I could find. Every day, we all just wanted it to be over. We never expected him to recover fully, which he remarkably did.
At that point in my life, I had decided I no longer subscribed to any faith in God, calling myself an agnostic. I thought it more likely than not that there wasn’t anyone in charge of it all, but when Poppy was lying in that bed every day, growing thinner and less recognizable, while simultaneously untying my whole family from their wits, I didn’t know what else to do but pray. At least then, I would feel like I was doing something.
Recently I was sitting in a car pondering the troubles of someone I know. Despite all my thinking, I know there’s very little, if anything, I can do. It’s a helpless feeling, being aware of a problem that is meaningful to you, and not being able to reach out and fix it with your own hands.
I caught myself in a nanosecond epiphany that faded as quickly as it came: I could pray about it. This is why I have mixed feelings about prayer, even as irrational as it seems to me. If God has a plan for everything, then all the imploring in the world won’t change it; and even if he had no path laid out, what would my opinions and ideas mean compared to his? Besides, if he leaves a person’s fate in the hands of those who may or may not ask for that person’s well-being, I’m not sure I’d want anything to do with such a guy.
But I understand that feeling of helplessness, that itch in the stomach to do something, anything to alter a crappy situation. In that moment when you’re either not coming up with creative solutions or discovering that you’re truly irrelevant to the situation, there’s a panic that arises, a restlessness, and even far-fetched ideas seem worth considering. As Ze Frank said:
…When I get that feeling in my stomach – you know the feeling when all of a sudden you get a
ball of energy and it shoots down into your legs, and up into your arms, and it tells you to get up
and stand up and go to the refrigerator and get a cheese sandwich? That’s my Cheese Monster
talking. And my Cheese Monster will never be satisfied by cheddar…only the cheese of accomplishment.
Sometimes my Cheese Monster tells me to pray. I can’t fault others’ for doing the same. As long as it is recognized that proactive, real-world solutions should always be sought first – rather than having an immediate Jesus-take-the-wheel response to things you can change – my qualms with prayer are few.Whatever sets a troubled mind at ease must be at least somewhat of a positive thing. There’s certainly nothing the living can do about a lost life. What falls to us then is to take care of one another – and ourselves. To those who are mourning a death, I hope you make an extra effort to care for those you love, and I hope you are conscious of keeping yourself safe, healthy and happy.
In the meantime, if it helps rest your pain, this atheist hopes you pray it out.