Religion & Beliefs

You Can Say A Little Prayer For Me, But I Won’t Like It

It’s funny that Jon just posted about prayer, because I’ve been thinking about it, too. You know those people who are constantly saying, “I’ll pray for you,” in an overly reassuring tone, as if telling you that is going to … Read More

By / October 8, 2007

It’s funny that Jon just posted about prayer, because I’ve been thinking about it, too. You know those people who are constantly saying, “I’ll pray for you,” in an overly reassuring tone, as if telling you that is going to make things all better? I detest those people. I hate the way they seem to be showing off, and implying that their prayers are going to be effective. I particularly hate the people who say they’ll pray for me (or anyone else) and what’s implied is that they’re praying I’ll see the light and either become super frum, or become Christian (depends on who’s making the comment). That kind of thing turns my stomach. Even though I’m big on davening, and I lay tefillin and frequently attend morning minyan and just generally try to put in some heavy face time with God, I rarely pray for anything in particular. I like that the liturgy does lots of the work for me (it mentions wanting sustenance, peace, the end of the diaspora, knowledge, redemption, good weather, good friends and tons of other useful things) but I also feel pretty strongly that if I really want to be better with money, or get a good grade on a paper, or a boyfriend or a new shower radio those things are all my responsibility. I am happy to have God cover the things I don’t think I have any/much control over (like peace, the end of the diaspora, good weather etc). Meanwhile, it’s up to me to take care of my finances, and work hard in school, and even flirt with boys and head to Radioshack, so I don’t waste God’s time asking for assistance with that kind of thing. But since my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and has this humongo surgery coming up, whenever I talk about it with people they always give me the “I’ll pray for you” (actually, more often it’s “I’ll pray for your mother” or “I’ll pray for your mother and your whole family”) line and even though it still kind of makes me cringe, I really do appreciate it. I’ve even solicited it from people I know who pray a lot.
Part of me feels really hypocritical. I think it’s kind of icky when people say this, but then when my mom’s in any kind of peril I’m all for it? I want to roll my eyes at myself here. On the other hand, I am crazy about my mom, and when it comes to this surgery I want my bases not just covered, I want them fucking laminated. Upholstered, even. Maybe prayer has a serious impact on God and/or the world, maybe it doesn’t, but just in case, if my mom is in danger let’s be on the safe side, right? Certainly I wouldn’t be opposed to God performing miracles in the operating room. Cancer? What cancer? In Hebrew, the word for praying (lehitpalel) is reflexive. It really means to judge yourself, not to request something of God. But if prayer is more about inward reflection than crying out to God, what’s the point of praying for someone else? You can’t do someone else’s inward reflections for them, and even if your own prayer makes you better/stronger/somehow more successful, how does that help the person in need? I don’t actually think it helps on any concrete or even spiritual level. Instead, I think the reason it’s good to say to a sick person that you’ll pray for them is exactly the same reason that I’m annoyed by Christian triumphalists who tell me they’ll pray for me. The prayer is not the point at all. Instead, the idea is just to let the person know that you care, and that you wish you had some way of making things better. It’s condescending and obnoxious when someone does it in regards to your whole faith or lifestyle, but when it’s directed towards a specific thing that you, too, wish was different, well that’s a different story. But I still can’t see myself ever saying, “I’ll pray for you.” Blech.