Q: What is praying actually supposed to do for my grief? I turned to my faith in my time of need, and I’m trying, but prayer doesn’t work for me.That’s a great question, because it centers around expectations.
If you are saying that prayer doesn’t work, what that really means is that your expectations aren’t being met. So, let’s talk about those expectations, and ways that prayer can (and perhaps can’t) meet them.
Why do we pray? Because we believe our prayer may be answered. We want connection, support and understanding. Sometimes we pray because we are flat-out terrified and we’re looking for answers and help. That’s a literal “Hail Mary.”
For example, I remember a time when my brother was critically ill, in intensive care. The doctor had warned us that his condition was touch and go. I sat with my brother all night, holding his hand, because I couldn’t sleep. At one point, I fell to my knees, crying, and felt prayer coming out of me. I was bargaining – offering up my own life if my brother could be spared. It was a prayer of desperation.
My brother survived, so you could say that my prayer was “answered.” I guess if my brother didn’t survive, I could have said my prayer didn’t work. But I would argue that the measure of whether or not a prayer “works” isn’t that simple.
Here’s an example of a different type of prayer: When my wife prays, she starts off by focusing on what she’s thankful for. Not bargaining, or listing her needs. Her prayer doesn’t carry any conditions. In this way, prayers can help us connect with the humility of life, love and loss.
This second type of prayer presents more opportunities to help you. It is an opportunity to articulate your grief. You’re putting it out there, and that’s the beginning of understanding. Also, loss is humbling. You’re going to do and say and feel things you never expected, and prayer can be a place to put all that.
If you still find yourself aggravated and frustrated, think about the positive aspect of those emotions – their intensity. Maybe it’s time to lean into that intensity and call on your brothers and sisters and explore that.
Rather than becoming agitated that your prayer doesn’t work, consider the possibility that you are being invited into communion. Go toward others who have the same structured belief as you, and ask for their support and guidance. Maybe they can help frame your prayers, or join in prayer with you. Few things are more powerful than shared prayer. It helps you connect with others and with a higher power.
This could open the door to a profound moment. Grieving is a time when you feel very raw and real in life, and that can be a powerful time to make strong connections. You may even have an opportunity for a deeper exploration of your faith.