Their Bad Mother

Their Bad Mother

A Prayer Before Dying

posted by Catherine Connors

Last week, I wrote about prayer. I wrote about how prayer – a certain kind of prayer – centered me and calmed me during pregnancy. Mostly. I also wrote about how, in certain desperate moments, I resorted to petitionary prayer, and how petitionary prayer didn’t calm me, how it felt grasping and wrong.

I think about petitionary and intercessory prayer a lot, mostly because most references to prayer in news and popular media are references to intercessory prayer, prayer that makes a request to one’s god to intercede in whatever circumstances are prompting the prayer. Pray for a cure for cancer. Pray that a lost child will be found. Pray that the Red Wings will win. All of which – with the possible exception of the third – are noble causes for which to pray. But as I said last week, I don’t believe in intercessory prayer, because I don’t believe in a God who intercedes. Why should God help us find a cure for cancer, and not for muscular dystrophy? Find one lost child, and not another? Help the Red Wings win while leaving children dying in sub-Saharan Africa? If God is a god who lets bad things happen, the only way that I can understand that is if the point of letting bad things happen is to compel us to cope with pain and heartbreak and evil ourselves, alone, to better understand those things. And that idea of a didactic God doesn’t square with a picture of God as a moody patriarch who dispenses favors to his children on the basis of who supplicates most fervently.

My nephew – my sister’s child – is dying. He has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, which is a condition in which the muscles – including the heart and lungs – gradually disintegrate. It almost exclusively affects boys. It always kills, usually before the child’s late teens. There is no cure. So it’s tempting for me to spend every night praying for God to intercede, to reveal a cure or to provide a miracle that will allow Tanner to live. But why should He? Why cure muscular dystrophy, and not, say, childhood leukemia? Why save Tanner, and not any number of other terminally ill children? If we expect God to intercede to make the world a better place, why not expect him to cure all illness and stop all wars and save everybody?

Because it doesn’t work that way. And because it doesn’t work that way, it also doesn’t work to expect that he’d make exceptions for special cases. As much as I believe that Tanner’s is the most special case in the world, his life more important than that of any other child’s, that’s simply not true. There are billions of lives in this world; his is just a drop in that ocean. And even if I believe that every drop is precious to God – that’s another topic for another day – it defies understanding to appeal for intercession. If every drop is precious, no individual drop is more special than any other, and no more deserving of intercession than any other. Stalemate.

So I don’t pray to God for intercession for Tanner. The thread of Tanner’s destiny will unfurl according to whatever plan or whatever fate or whatever force controls or does not control these things. But whatever that fate/force/plan is, it is not subject to or moveable by my appeals. So I pray for peace and strength for myself, and hope that my sister does the same.

And then, sometimes, I cry and rage against the unfairness of it all, but that is my burden to bear. It is not God’s – whatever, whoever, wherever He/She is – to lift. It is my own.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 2:05 pm

I am honored to be the first to post a comment on yet another one of your amazing posts. I don’t know how you do it, but you manage to draw every one who reads you, into your heart and soul. You make people see things from your incredibly insightful point of view. You break my heart day in and day out, and I love you for it. Basically, you rock!

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posted May 26, 2009 at 2:09 pm

What a poignant post on something I wholeheartedly agree with. Far too often I’ve watched a friend or family member set their heart on a prayer, and far too often I’ve watched them suffer harder because they not only lost a loved one, but were also let down by the one they believe is in control.
To abstain from the selfish prayer and simply leave it up to the powers that be (whether its God or just humankind) is difficult, but so important in the scheme of our own hearts and humanity.
Thanks for another wonderful read.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I rarely comment on blogs, but this reached out to me. So considered and touching.
I wish you all the very best for your unique journey.
Take care

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posted May 26, 2009 at 2:27 pm

My son is just finishing up his treatment for Wilms’ Tumor, Kidney Cancer. He was 19 months when he was diagnosed, he now only has one kidney, but a pretty good life ahead of him. I absolutely, positively, share the point of view of this post.
I’ve met a lot of people through the course of this cancer thing, people who would ask me to pray their child’s ANC (measure of white blood cells) would go up, or this number would go down, or that a scan would be clean. People would tell me they were praying for my son in the same way.
I never took much comfort in that kind of prayer, I don’t believe in a God who looks down and says “well fine, because you all prayed hard enough I’ll bring his counts up/let his scans be clean.” Josh’s counts went up because his body recovered. The tumors went away because the medications worked and we were put with a team that treated our son with knowledge and caring. I won’t go into fate or luck here, but we always felt we were right where we were supposed to be, even when it was in the PICU.
I believe my prayers were heard, but I believe prayer is more about getting yourself put back together than submitting requisition forms. I asked for strength, to centered in the fact that this was happening to my son, and my number one concern was his comfort, after that the psyche of his 3 year old sister who had a rough go of all of this. What I needed in prayer was centering, patience, calm, and that’s what I got.
All of that was more useful to me than anything else I could have asked for. I always liked the idea of praying to be given what you need, shown what you needed to see, not what you wanted to have or wanted to hear.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I’ve learned, through years of trials and bargains and pleading, that sometimes it’s best just to ask God to take care of things/people/places.
Great post.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 5:19 pm

This is the first post of your blog I’ve read. Great introduction!

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posted May 27, 2009 at 12:26 am

THIS is why I love your blog. You capture with words, the thoughts that float around in my head, wishing for some manner of expressing them.
In intercessory prayer, I feel like I have some control, and when I feel in control, I feel like everything will be okay. In my weakest moments, I do pray for God to intervene–but who am I kidding? Do I pray because He should? Or He will? No. I pray because I’m desperate. It takes MORE strength NOT to pray.
The Serenity Prayer may sound trite, but it’s so true. “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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Your Name

posted May 27, 2009 at 5:18 am

I have to admit, there have been many times, in desperation, that I have fallen to my knees and begged for God to step in and change things for me. I also believe that at those times, He did. However, I believe that praying for His will in my life has been more effective. (In the “Big Picture”) Thank you

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Your Name

posted May 27, 2009 at 8:47 am

Let my mind be still, and my heart open.
Let nothing hide your Presence from me.
Let me see your beauty in all times and places.
Bring peace to my troubled spirit through that calm, loving silence;
your most intimate hallmark.
May I become courageous and generous,
Sensitive and aware, and always attentive to your Presence.

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A Mother

posted May 27, 2009 at 9:23 am

Prayer may not work but support for medical research can and will. My 29 year old son with duchenne muscular dystrophy is alive today thanks to the advancements, not necessarily in MD, but in the treatment of persons with lung diseases including pneumonia. When he was diagnosed 23 years ago there was no treatment and no hope. Human trials are now being done on several possible treatments for DMD, we can pray that they succeed and/or we can support them to help insure their success.

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posted June 8, 2009 at 4:29 pm

I feel sorry that you do not believe we have a loving God that sometimes interceeds on our behalf or on the behalf of a loved one. When my second son was born the doctor came to the waiting room and told my family that I and the baby probably would die during delivery. My son was born breech and I had him naturally. When he was born they immediately took him to the NICU because his heart was on the wrong side of his body, he had a lung that was not functioning, his little behind was totally black from brusing and he had blisters on his privates. Needless to say he was in a mess. The peditician came in to examine him, them came to visit me and tell me the news about his life expetency. The doctor did not expect him to live to the next day. But my God, a loving and caring God, took mercy on me and him and we both lived. My mother was in the hallway at the hospital praying and she believes an angel came to her and prayed with her. People from the church came to try and reassure me everything would be ok but like you I was “I’ll believe it when I see it” type person. The next morning the peditrician came in and told me that he didn’t know what happened but that my baby was perfect. His heart and moved to where it belonged, his lung was functioning perfectly and there would be no permenant damage to his privates. I only had to wait until the brusing and swelling went away to have him circumcised. You can believe whatever gives you comfort about whether or not God interceeds but I know for a certainty that he does. I only hope that someday you will have the faith to believe in miracles, they still happen. Read your Bible, Jesus did not heal all the leapers, open all the blinded eyes, or raise everyone from the dead but I’d bet you Lazarus believed in intercesserary prayer.

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posted July 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

Wow – what a powerful and wonderfully written post. Thank you very much for saying what I think a lot of us think. It always seemed so strange to me to think that God would create the suffering in the first place and then intervene if the right/enough people asked. My own personal belief is that suffering happens because it has to. To 1) have an orderly universe and 2) preserve free will, there must be some suffering. We need weather and rain to survive, but that can sometimes bring hurricanes. We get free will but that means that some people will hurt others. Because of that I also don’t engage in intercessionary prayer, but I have never heard it put quite so well as in this post. Thank you.

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posted July 27, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Thank you for this. It concisely pulled together all of the disorienting thoughts I’ve been having on this very subject for the last 36 hours or so. I’ve gotten to the point anymore that when I pray, which is quite a lot, all I ask is God, whatever you are, please be with me.

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posted October 18, 2010 at 1:02 pm

The problem here is not fully understanding God’s plan for mankind. Satan introduced sin to Adam and Eve and they believed his disceit. Now God has ‘allowed’ all this to happen because if we went straight into a perfect world, the human people would always wonder about the ‘other’ way. God wants us to be wise as serpents and peaceful as doves, who better to learn off than that serpent the devil. I have had so many intercessionary prayers answered, they do work. The whole point of prayer is to realise that without God we are nothing, no loving God would leave you alone, and ours is love personified. Yes not everyone can survive or will survive, thats thanks to Satan introducing corruption and the curse upon the world set by God because we all sinned.
Now the plan (written in the bible) is obviously pointed towards the second coming of Christ and a series of resurrections! Firstly all those who died ‘in Christ’ and then everyone who has EVER died. So thats billions upon billions of people who died brought back to life. Including every person whos never heard of Jesus, every unborn, stillborn child, every cancer patient, every untimely early death even you, me and every early DMD death. Once back we get taught out of the bible, we get 100 years to chose God and accept we all sin, once we prove we choose him, we get everlasting life.
So whats the point of now? Well this life is here as a test, so we show our love and Christian Light and be kind, charitable and forgiving and get that chance to die ‘in Christ’, because we get to rule the Earth with Jesus Himself for 1000 years. But if we fail we get another chance as I’ve said earlier. The plan is straightforward and awesome and full of love. Thats why we pray for others to show our Light to Jesus and He will help us, not always but we will always get our second chance. Read Ezekiel for a clue chapter 37.

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posted February 5, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Thanks for your words…you used much more eloquent words than I could ever have thought. I remember praying really really hard for my son when we learned he had a stroke a few days before he was born. I prayed, pleaded, begged for God to do whatever it took to save him from any misery. But, I also had such incredible guilt that I would ask him to help my son when there are so many other kids suffering. Why not go ahead and help them ALL. I also felt so guilty because one of my best friends in the world had brain damage resulting in physical impairments (Cerebral palsy) and it’s not like it stopped her from having a full life. Not an un-difficult life, but stiff a good, rich life.
I don’t have the answers. I still pray although I don’t consider myself to be a Christian or a follower of any particular faith. All I know there is suffering in the world and I want ALL of our kiddos to not have any part of it. I don’t ever want to hear the words, “It’s his plan” or “It’s the way it way it was meant to be” or anything like that.

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posted February 5, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Pam – I think you have missed the point. The author is not saying that God does not care or does not listen – she is simply saying that the fact that your baby lived and my sister’s breech baby (much the same story as yours) died is not because we did not pray enough for my sister’s baby or that somehow God decided that your family was more worthy of a miracle than ours was.
Catherine – thank you for finding a way to put this into words – mostly for all of us who have prayed and lost loved ones. This does not mean that God loves us less or that God didn’t ‘answer’ our prayers. Well said.

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posted February 5, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I believe my prayers to intercede are mostly selfish. I am asking God to keep a soul here, in this life instead of the next. The suffering of anyone is regrettable, but death is inevitable and beautiful, and the time when a soul crosses to the next life. God may or may not agree that this person would be best to stay in this life, no matter how we feel about it. We feel terrible for what we perceive as lost potential, and grieve for the survivors, but the deceased is at peace. When we cannot change the outcome any other way, we can pray for intercession but it is basically not up to us if the prayer will change the outcome. Prayers for intercession do comfort the survivors.
However, I feel strongly that there are people that attempt to use intercessory prayer instead of directly helping an individual. I don’t believe that God wants us to pray to make it rain in Africa when we can help a program that digs wells in villages. Praying for motivation and inspiration to use our hands and minds to help before it is too late might be more productive. Perhaps finding more ways to gather funds for the research and treatment of fatal disease can grant you some peace as well.
As a medical scientist I have seen so much of the unexpected and unexplained and some I can only attribute to the prayers, often of many, that changed the outcome of a single soul. For that matter, I believe it heals the souls of the prayerful, when there really is nothing else they can to do to help.
A friend of mine was dying in the nursing home. She had a roommate that was weeping and could not sleep as she had lost a leg and was there for surgery to lose the other. My friend told her “close your eyes and sleep and while you do I will pray for you and your leg.” The woman slept and the next day her leg was found to be adequately healing to try to save. Was it because the woman was comforted enough for her blood pressure, her stress level to drop enough to help the healing start? Who is to know?

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Sherry Carr-Smith

posted February 5, 2011 at 11:03 pm

When my first husband was dying, I had to work very hard not to beg and plead God for his life. If he had lived, he would have been comatose with no real hope of recovery. I prayed that the doctors would find out what was wrong, that he had heard us say we loved him, and that he wasn’t in pain. I prayed that the outcome would be what was best for him. It was so difficult not to beg God for him. And when it became clear that he wouldn’t live in any real way, and I had him removed from life support, I prayed for his peace. Hundreds of people prayed for him, whether they called it prayer or good thoughts or were Christian or pagan. So many voices were lifted up asking for healing. And still, one of the volunteers at hospice said that if we had just prayed a little more, he might have been healed.
It’s tricky, this praying business. Thanks for sharing yours. And I’m sending up a prayer for Tanner now.

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posted February 6, 2011 at 1:34 am

William Temple’s reply to mocking that “answered prayer was a mere coincidence” was, “That may be true, but I’ve noticed that when I pray coincidences happen and when I don’t, they don’t”

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posted February 6, 2011 at 8:55 am

Thank you for your words.

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posted August 1, 2011 at 3:24 am


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Cathy E.

posted February 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I choose to believe God. I hope you will too. We are constantly trying to filter God’s thoughts through our mortal minds and logic. The bible says that His thoughts are Higher than our thoughts. Higher than the heavens to the earth.

Take these following promises literally for yourselves and your family members and pray for God to heal them. If God didn’t care about us, why did He send His own Son, Jesus Christ,to die in our place? If He didn’t want us healed, why would he send his Son to be tortured on a cross for our healing? Get in covenant with Jesus Christ today….you will find that you have enough faith to ask God for the impossible.

1.Psalm 103: 2-5
2 Let all that I am praise the LORD;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

2. Isaiah 53:5 – Healing of disease is in the atonement by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Isaiah 53:5
5. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole.

John 16:23 -
In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

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