I’ve been puzzling over the use and abuse of prayer. On its most benevolent level, prayer seems to be a request someone makes on behalf of herself or others to the divine. The person offering the prayer hopes that this intercession will shed some light on a particular situation. In the case of illness, one hopes that praying for that person might bring a positive outcome in the form of healing. There’s the belief that conveying the prayer might have some power to change a bad outcome into a better one. On the surface, this supplication seems innocent and well-intentioned.
While I appreciate the intent behind a friend or family member praying for me, I do get uncomfortable when the intention seems to have a power element behind it. Let me explain.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed a relative, a conservative Christian, praying for me and others. This person believes she’s doing the Lord’s good work by taking the time to mediate on certain people’s behalf. But unfortunately, her prayers often appear to have a questionable intent.
Instead of praying for a generic outcome, she has a particular end in mind. In one case, she told me that she had prayed for me to experience calm and acceptance during a crisis. When I did actually demonstrate a more peaceful state, she assumed it was because of her intervention. But to me, she was demonstrating a power motif that I find upsetting. I feel she’s using this appeal to a higher power to make her own life feel more significant, and, in a way, she doesn’t trust in the benevolence of a deity to give me consolation. She is taking on the role of the deity herself and assuming she can make changes in people’s lives.
Even when a person makes a generic wish for someone in need to be helped, it could still have a power element in it. There’s something patronizing and officious about claiming we have the ability to change the result of an illness or negative condition. On the one hand, for me to say I’ll pray for you could just be an innocent utterance that I actually won’t formally follow through on, but saying it relieves me from feeling helpless and makes me seem compassionate and caring.
I’m wondering what others think about the use of prayer. Convince me that I’m wrong!
2 thoughts on “Prayer or a Power Play?”
I think power enters into it when you tell the other person that you will pray for them. Why not pray anonymously? To me, prayer is very personal and I rarely pray for a specific outcome. God is not Santa Claus. If ever I pray I connect with the sea of consciousness. I think it weird to ask for something but then my god is not interventionist.
You’re absolutely right. If there is a God, s/he is not Santa Claus. I love that parallel.