It’s been years since I’ve attended church regularly – it has, in all honesty, been years since I’ve set foot in a church at all – but I still pray. Not every day, but a lot of days. Usually when I’m struggling with stress or anxiety. It’s a kind of meditation for me. I repeat the prayers of my childhood, or I do Hail Marys. Sometimes I just run through different versions of the Lord’s Prayer, over and over and over again. It relaxes me. Why it relaxes me – and why it relaxes me when everything else about organized religion puts me in a state of anxiety – would take more space than I have here, so I’ll leave that question for another day.
What I don’t do when I pray: petition on my own or another’s behalf. I don’t ask God make something better or to change anything; I don’t ask him to heal my nephew or to provide more work for my husband or to see to it that the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. I don’t ask God to intercede. Or rather, I mostly don’t ask God to intercede. I have, on a few occasions, asked for help. Those occasions were when I was pregnant. There were a few times, over the course of my two pregnancies, when Hail Marys just did not do the trick. I needed something more than just a calm mind. I needed help. And so I asked God for help.
In my first pregnancy, I had multiple miscarriage scares, and I prayed, each time, that God intercede. In my second pregnancy, I had a genetics scare, which led to amniocentesis and risk of miscarriage, and I prayed that God help. And I had a labor scare when my son came too fast, much too fast, and tore me open when we were speeding down the highway to the hospital. I begged God to do something then. I cried a lot when I said those prayers. I cried because I was afraid, but I cried, also, because those petitionary prayers didn’t calm my heart. I knew that I should pray for grace, that I should pray for the strength to accept what might happen, that I should pray for understanding and patience and peace. I knew that I could not be at ease with petitionary prayer, because I don’t believe in petitionary or intercessory prayer. The God that I believe in doesn’t pick and choose which tragedies to forestall – why should he intervene in my miscarriage but let babies starve in Darfur? – so my prayers, I knew, were just wishes lobbed at heaven. They weren’t meditative. They weren’t even conversation, if one understands prayer as a sort of reflective, spiritual conversation. They were just cries in the dark.
I knew that at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, when you’re afraid, all you can do is cry out at the fear and beg the universe to stop. I would probably do the same again, were I to face such fear again. I will do the same again, I know. But I would tell any woman who would turn to prayer during pregnancy or birth to pray for peace and strength, rather than pray for divine intervention. To pray for a calm heart.
And, in the meantime, take vitamins and make sure the epidural’s booked.