I’ve been composing this blog post for a few weeks after my friend Tammy wrote a post regarding prayer. Other than to my close friends and family, I have made it a point to not openly discuss my religious beliefs. I realize that part of this comes from the fact that I used to work for an agency that went out of its way to encompass every religion and belief (from Jewish and Christian to Atheist and Agnostic). I chaired more Memorial Committees than I can remember and part of what we always had to consider was including readings that were not typically sided towards one belief system. At times we would have a service in a church but we also made sure to have a service in a neutral location as to not offend anyone.
You can not be a grief counselor and not deal with religious and spiritual issues. “I’m a grief counselor who can discuss spiritual issues but I’m not a religious counselor” I would share with my clients. I pride myself that I could keep boundaries in this sense and as a result I have to say that over the years I have learned from my clients who came form different religious backgrounds than my own. As a result of being open minded, I feel that I was able to share my new education with other clients. Often, when we are in the mix of hurting, taking a different view can bring much comfort.
Like my friend Tammy, I pray daily and often view my daily relationship with God as an ongoing conversation. I often do morning prayers in my journal and I do not see that prayer must be down on your knees (although I do enjoy the tradition of kneeling during Mass). However, my friends’ post made me stop and think. What do you/we/I pray for? I have sent up many prayers over the last year and a half of my life (well actually, there have been tons of prayers throughout my life).
I was raised to believe that God can do anything. I believe that he is the one to thank when someone is late to work, like some of the survivors from 9/11 that weren’t in the Towers when the planes crashed. I believe he is the one who creates the inner voice that tells you to turn left instead of right and thus you avoid the car wreck, the one who helps the tornado victim survive in the rubble. I believe he does put people in your life at the exact moment you need something: a smile, someone compliments your outfit or connects you with a potential job. But believing these things also has to make me thing about the others:
Far too many times, I’ve sat with someone who questioned where God was. Where was he for the mother who had her only son hit by a car? Where was he for the young woman who suffered four miscarriages? Parents questioned where he was when their son’s plane caught fire and went down?
Death and tragedy can make one question their belief system. I’ve worked with individuals who were considered leaders in their churches who didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others that they were doubting or questioning. Faith is abstract and when we think too hard, attempt to touch it – then we begin to question and even doubt.
Years ago, one of my favorite young clients came to a session after attending her religion class at school. The subject had been Heaven and when another student questioned that no one had been there, the teacher simply responded “You just have to believe the Bible and have Faith.”
“But Sheryl,” the 10 year old stated, “We haven’t been and we don’t know.”
A 10 year old child is at the age where they are beginning to question and saying “Just have faith.” Isn’t always going to get it. So we spent the session discussing what she thought Heaven was like for her Father and what he would be doing and I shared with her my own thoughts about my dad (I felt comfortable enough that this family wouldn’t be upset). It was a great session and in many ways included views from many different perspectives.
As I said earlier, you can’t deal with death daily and not develop a belief system. James and I do not attend church as regularly as we
should could but I also do not feel I need to step inside the church door to be a better Christian. As I said, God is with me daily, I feel that spiritually I am very in touch with the world around me. I try daily to be the best person that I can be and I hope that I am able to display Christian love in my daily manner. Stepping inside a church does not make me a better person/Christian. Sadly, I feel like I do know some who judge me for my lack of church attendance on a regular basis. I previously wrote that my Mom was a strong believer and when she was younger she did actively attend church, in the summers I attended two vacation Bible schools (one at my Dad’s home church from his youth and then our church) – and then my Dad died and we moved to a new city.
Mom tried several churches after we moved but sadly our family was one of those that experienced some of the not so nice things that happen behind the scenes of a church. At one church, the minister even said to Mom that because she was a widow, she needed to watch how she acted around the married men who were working with my brother (because he didn’t want the wives to be jealous). We also attended a church where we were actually told that a pew was saved for others. Really??? I think back on some of the experiences and it makes me angry and makes me amazed that she continued to go to church off and on for several years. She wanted my brother and I to have the foundation (although it makes me wonder why she felt we should listen to what they were teaching). Yet, she continued to believe that there is a God and although she was left with two young children, she knew she was blessed.
I’ve had clients who I’ve asked if they feel God is a punishing God (and sadly, some are taught or feel that if you don’t follow a specific plan then you are not following God). It’s hard sitting with someone who cries and says “I must not be a good person.” That belief is WRONG but when you are in the middle of pain, it can sometimes feel like that. That things are occurring to you because you just weren’t good enough, or attend church enough or say enough prayers.
Over the past (almost) two years, I have said many prayers. I prayed during our infertility treatments that if we weren’t supposed to be going down the road we were on that at each step we would be stopped. When we weren’t stopped, I took it as this was what we were supposed to be doing. After the miscarriage, I was angry that I had been prepared all along to receive a no and couldn’t understand why God had allowed everything to go as far as it had to end in a loss.
I controlled myself when another coworker went through IVF at the same time, became pregnant with twins and happily said in a sing song voice, “I asked God for twin girls and that’s exactly what I’m getting!”
Where is the prayer window where you receive EXACTLY what you ask for?
When my Mom was diagnosed, never once did I pray for healing for her. Some may disagree with me but I was knowledgeable enough to know that what we were dealing with would have taken a true miracle. Although I would have taken a miracle, I found the best prayer was simply to pray for peace and strength. I prayed for peace from pain for her (which often happened), peace for me and my Nanny as I walked alongside of her and strength to make it through. I rarely reread my journal entries but I recently reread an entry from last December and in it I stated that I wondered where God was that day. In the next sentence I answered myself in the way of stating that I did see God in the faces of my co-workers and friends.
I feel that we should be careful in the way in which we pray. It is not easy to pray for God’s will but when we do, we may find that we receive far greater than we could ever have asked. The reality for me is that I prayed for a healthy baby and that if our child couldn’t be healthy then I did not want a birth. I also know that God saw what was in front of me and knew what I wouldn’t be able to handle. If our pregnancy had continued, the baby would have been due exactly 3 weeks before Mom’s death.
It is not easy to sometimes to feel that there is something better out there for me. There are moments that I want to really play the victim and list all of the things that I no longer have. As I used to tell my clients – I’ve let God have it. I have told God how angry I am at him – but I still believe.
The past few days have had rough moments for me and I know that the underlying issue is that I do not have my Mom and Nanny here for Thanksgiving. I miss them (the healthy them). I think back to past Holidays and traditions. I want and do ask God, Why? I feel that someday I will have that answer.
Yes, I have lost much over the past 11 months but I have all that I need. I have a loving husband, a beautiful home, my health, supportive friends and have had doors opened to me that may have never been opened if I had not been on this road.
One of my favorite quotes is from Meister Eckhart ” If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
Thanks for taking the time to read this really long post. I hope that you will take some time to count your own blessings but to also send up some of your own prayers – in whatever form.