‘Never Pray Again’
This post is part of a blog tour for the book Never Pray Again by Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, and Nick Larson. Clawson received a copy of the book as a participant in this blog tour.
Prayer can hurt. All too often it serves as the easy way to meet one’s spiritual quota for the day. Pray before meals thanking God for the food while ignoring the plight of the impoverished workers who labored unseen to bring you the food, send up prayers for stuff you need much like you would wish upon a star, pray that the people/sinners you don’t like will become more like you and check, you’ve done your duty for the day. This is called being close to God. This is the extent of many Christians’ daily spiritual practices. While it may seem benign this sort of praying can often do more harm than good.
As Never Pray Again delves into, prayer often misses the point of what it means to be a Christian. Instead of following the way of Jesus and living into one’s faith, prayer is used as means to look spiritual but not actually do anything. But prayer is not a substitute for action — for actually living out one’s faith. We can hurt ourselves by restricting ourselves from fully embracing our faith when we merely rely on perfunctory prayers, but we also fail to do God’s work in the world. We are God’s hands and feet in this world, it does no good to ask God to fix something in this world unless we are willing to function as such. We let hurt and suffering in this world thrive when all we do is pray. Faith is about going and doing, not simply making a wish and feeling like we’ve been let off the hook.
It is in the chapter titled “Heal!” that the book explores some of the ways prayer can be the most harmful. It is common in churches to pray for the healing of people — from people with cancer, to those with mobility issues, to even those with mental illnesses. And while it may sound extreme, the prayers to “pray the gay away,” or that a man or woman would live into their God-ordained gender roles, or even that calamity might befall a person in order to stop them from the “sinful path” they might be on, are far more common than we would like to believe. I personally have been told by people that they would pray for me because of my belief that women could be pastors. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t take medicine to help with my anxiety issues but that I just needed to cast my cares on God in prayer and I would be just fine. I even grew up being told in church that if I just prayed enough God would heal my arm (I was born missing my left arm below the elbow). And conference after conference I attend think they are being inclusive of disability when they invite people who work with the disabled (and not the actual disabled) to speak about how they serve (seek to heal) those who are different.
The problem with these sorts of prayers and perspectives, as the chapter points out, is that they assume there is some default way of being in this world and that if you don’t measure up to the default you are deficient in some way and so therefore must be healed to be made whole. People who diverge from the default mold are broken and must be fixed. From gays and lesbians, to independent women, to the obese, to the disabled, to the mentally ill — these are signs of not abiding by a culture norm and so must be things people need healing from. These people are lesser than the default model and so must be changed in order to become whole according to whatever happens to be the culture’s current definition of the “default.”
Yes, there are some illnesses that people want to heal from so their suffering ends. Others find that using a wheelchair or prosthetic limb or taking an antidepressant helps them function with more ease in the world. There are steps of healing that are necessary and good and that help people become their full selves. But therein lies the distinction. They do not need healing so that they can be more like the default norm, they seek healing and aid because they want to be fully themselves. There is brokenness all around us and in us that prevents us from being whole or loving others into wholeness.
But often it is the very implication that one must be healed (become more like the default norm) that causes the most hurt and pain. When families are kicked out of churches because the church can’t deal with their kid with autism, or a person in a wheelchair is effectively shunned because no one is comfortable interacting with a person they know will never be “whole” like them, or someone prays that you would be healed of something that you consider an integral part of your identity — it is hard not to come to believe that one can never be whole and accepted as is. They accept their place as broken and inferior and come to despise their very selves for being something other than the culture’s default norm.
This is not healing; this is the creation of brokenness.
So as the chapter explores, our perspective of what healing means needs to shift. To heal is not to become like the cultural norm, it is to embrace all people for who they are and to communally help us all to live into wholeness. Being with, truly with, someone in a way that shows you love them for who they are is far more difficult than condescendingly sending up a prayer that people not like you need to be healed. But it is the only way to live into both your and their wholeness.
Julie Clawson is author of The Hunger Games and the Gospel and Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family and blogs at julieclawson.com.
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