Their Bad Mother

Their Bad Mother

That’s Why We Pray

I’ve written about prayer a few times here. I’ve been pretty clear that I’m ambivalent about the idea the idea of intercessory prayer – that is, of praying to God to intervene in the life of others, to save a life, to cure an illness, to find a lost loved one, to solve war and famine, to see to it that the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. I’m ambivalent about it because – as I’ve said here before – although I appreciate (and practice) prayer as a sort of communion with one’s higher power, I can’t reconcile that idea of communion with asking for intercessory favors. I understand asking for strength, peace, patience, insight; I don’t understand asking for God to play favorites.


What I said about this a few months back:

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, I said at the time, it doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t work that way, or at least I hope that he doesn’t. If I pray for him to save Tanner’s life, and he doesn’t, does that mean that he judged Tanner undeserving of such favor? That I prayed wrong? What? Spiritual peace on the matter of my nephew’s inevitable death requires that I accept his death as part of God’s plan. What that plan is, I don’t know. But if I believe that God has a plan, a good plan, a meaningful plan, for everyone and everything on earth, who am I to demand that He change that plan? Why should he change that plan for me? And if He’s willing to change His plans if people ask Him enough, then what sort of God is He anyway?


I’ve been thinking about this, because I’ve been asked a lot over the last day or so to pray for the child of another blogger, and to ask others to pray for him and for his mom and for their family. Which I am doing, of course. But I am not praying for God to intervene and save Stellan’s life, and I’ve said so. I’m praying for peace and strength for Stellan’s mom and for Stellan’s family. I’m praying that Stellan be surrounded by love. I hope that that’s enough, and that that’s right. I believe that it is. But I’ve been told by a few people that my aversion to intercessory prayer reflects a lack of faith, and that if I only believed that God does intervene, I would embrace it.


But as I said above, I don’t want to believe that God can be persuaded to intervene in some cases (and by extension, choose to not intervene in others). Of course I want Stellan to live, just as I want Tanner to live. But if their life and death – if life and death in general – can be determined by something as fickle and indeterminate as force of persuasion, I don’t even want to know. Because as I said above, I don’t want to believe in a God who decides who lives and dies on the basis of who has the most effective lobbyists. I just don’t.

So I pray for strength and peace and love for the families of children like Stellan and Tanner. I pray that doctors and scientists be inspired to do their very best work in caring for these children and in searching for cures for their conditions. I pray for patience and understanding for myself, such that I might face a world that is full of sadness and pain with grace.

And then I pray some more.


Comments read comments(32)
post a comment
Your Name

posted July 29, 2009 at 10:35 am

I think that you expressed it beautifully and I do believe that is the way prayer should work.
It’s not what we want that we should be praying for but god’s will and to understand it. I do believe that he has a larger plan and that for us living in the moment we can’t always see it clearly.
Do I have any idea what it is? No. I honestly can’t fathom why god would let children die, your nephew Tanner, my brother…the inumerable children in third world countries. Do I realize how heartbreaking it is to not plead for intercession and to want a miracle…yes i do know, personally, how painful it is. I do belive in miracles as well, against all the odds miracles but I think those are also part of God’s larger plans as well.
All I have is have faith and all I can do is pray for strength, understanding, courage and peace….and in the end I just believe.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 11:24 am

Wow! That was beautiful, and thoughtful, and so much more. Thank you.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 11:48 am

This has to be the BEST post I have read in a very long time! I dont even remember how I found your blog now…

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 11:54 am

I had given up on prayer and god for several years until I read that post a few months back…You touched a nerve and I’m praying again. So thank you for that.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Brilliant. Of course. I always pray that everyone accept the outcome of the situation, whatever it is, with peace.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Amen. Yhis is totally how I feel about prayer. Thank you for sparing me the effort of putting it into words myself. :)

report abuse

Must Be Motherhood

posted July 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

This is an excellent defense of prayer.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Your posts about this have totally changed my way of thinking when it comes to prayer. Thank you.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

I love this very, very much.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 2:51 pm

i agree with you. i do think you are feeling bad about how you feel or people are making you feel bad b/c you won’t say “dear lord please save ______.” I think it is a shame that people can’t respect your feelings on this.
this comes up a lot when children go missing and one is found and everyone says “it was prayer.” i have heard a parent of a still missing child comment on that saying –hey, we have prayed just as much as anyone else. so stop acting like we are ok with our kid being missing. stop acting like we don’t pray correctly or enough.
it is all in God’s hands. not ours.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 8:54 pm

This is a wonderful post and I’m bookmarking it to refer to people when they ask about my feelings on prayer. Wonderful, simply wonderful.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 9:00 pm

I love you. I love Tanner. And i know exactly what you mean by all of this.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I don’t agree in a lot of ways, but that’s okay. I have to pour my heart out and plead how I do. I have too, and I believe sometimes the answer is YES, and sometimes it is NO, but either way, my thoughts were pouring out of me and onto God. It’s the only way I know to deal.
BUT! I have been thinking lately about the “power of social media.” I don’t think that’s what God would call clout. That’s just my guess.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 9:07 pm

I know I horrify people when I don’t immediately say oh, yes, I’ll pray for X’s whatever. I don’t believe that we can change an outcome through prayer. Faith sometimes means accepting no for an answer.
It’s hard and sometimes I do wish God was more cosmic soda machine and less great comforter, but . . . I know it’s better this way.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Catherine—I’ve been reading regularly, and praying for peace for your entire family after we met in NY in March and you eluded to Tanner’s situation.
Like you, I refuse to see God as a capricious puppeteer, wantonly bestowing “favors” based on those with enough friends to petition fervently and frequently enough….but I do believe in the peace I feel when I offer situations like Tanner’s upward. Having been on that receiving end as well, there’s power and solace there…regardless of outcome.
Personally, I also take issue with the idea of “God’s will” being used as an explanation for any such unimaginable tragedy….or success. Fully believe God’s with us; but despite what my kids would say, we’re not God’s Playmobil.
Hoping you feel the sustenance of prayers uttered and unspoken on your family’s behalf, Catherine.
A beautifully articulated post. I know to expect nothing less. Thank you.

report abuse

Mrs. Wilson

posted July 29, 2009 at 10:23 pm

I totally get what you’re saying. Completely.
I do believe in intercessory prayer, but I completely respect the beliefs of others and would never force my beliefs on anyone else.
Thank you for sharing and being so honest!

report abuse

carrien (she laughs at the days)

posted July 29, 2009 at 10:57 pm

I realize that the bulk of what you are saying is based on what you hope is the case. But doesn’t it seem a little presumptuous to you to decide which prayers God will or won’t answer and therefore refuse one type of prayer based on those presumptions?
Have you done any exegesis of particular scriptures on the subject? Do you have any explanation for the multitude of verses that seem at first glance to contradict your opinion? What of the people who have lived and experienced miraculous interventions in their own lives? Would you discount them all, say they are all fools, because your opinion, which seems quite relative, doesn’t agree with their experience?
I’m just trying to understand how you can hold your position based on… what? Hope alone? Your personal conviction that this is as it should be? Perhaps you are simply afraid to hope for the other, afraid of the struggle it would cause to hope and not know the answer.
I think though, that your opinion closes you to the the possibility of understanding prayer, and faith, in a different way than either of the two options you have stated.
I submit that these aren’t the only two ways to think of it. Your explanation of why God might intervene, in response to intercessory prayer, are far too simplistic, and reject thousands of years of careful study by many far smarter and more good than either you or I.
I will pray for your nephew. I will pray as I always do, that God’s Kingdom come, and his will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven. It seems to me that the life of Christ indicates that it is God’s will that none should perish, or suffer. Yet his will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven. Which is why we are told to pray for it to be so. It also seems that for his kingdom to be present we must choose obedience, to pray, to be the presence of Christ on the earth in our daily lives. It seem to me that it is through the lives and prayers of those who believe that His Kingdom comes. In which case, to not pray for those in need would be the worst kind of inaction imaginable.

report abuse


posted July 29, 2009 at 11:04 pm

I’m RIGHT THERE with Amber, so I’m not going to repeat what she said, but I wanted to add:
Basically, I’m able to accept the fact that God’s reasoning is so unfathomable, that he may decide not to grant what we ask for some reason that is so far beyond my understanding that it is incommunicable. Like describing a sense that you don’t have sense organs for. Like describing a fifth or sixth dimension.
I don’t think he’s limited to making decisions with the same motivations that we use, so I don’t feel threatened by acknowledging that in some cases, he chooses not to act in the way we ask him to act. Just because he chose not to act, doesn’t mean that X person was unworthy, or that the people praying for him were unworthy/didn’t do a good enough job; ditto on “causes” outside of individual favors.
The world was perfect. God chose to let us [adam and eve] choose to obey or not. God chose to let the consequences of that choice play out, in the long term. So, we have to work at things. Childbearing hurts. We poop, and it stinks. People get sick, suffer, die, and it is ALL so incredibly NOT okay, but for that some unfathomable reason, God continues to choose to let it play out this way for now.
Some people get mad at God about that. Personally, I choose to see it from the other perspective. Sometimes he DOES step in and make exceptions. And he’s promised that eventually, he’s going to end it (a new heaven and a new earth, he said). Hope (which he paid for, by the way) outside of the crap we’re stuck in while we’re here.
Anyhow, so that’s why I’m not opposed to asking for things. Sometimes he says yes. But most of all, he is a dad. He tells those of us who are heavy laden to come to him. When my kid is hurting, I want him to come to me, even when it’s not going to fix what’s wrong.
I go to God like that.

report abuse

Antique Mommy

posted July 30, 2009 at 9:09 am

Wow. A well-articulated position on prayer that is wholly counter to the popular Christian viewpoint. My prayer is Thy will be done. Even if I don’t like it or understand it.

report abuse


posted July 30, 2009 at 9:48 am

I really appreciate your post. I don’t fully agree with what you wrote, but it makes me think about prayer in a different way. I think that God doesn’t mean for us to suffer alone with the bad stuff – I think we’re suppose to rely on him even more in those times. I’ve always understood that suffering’s purpose is to teach us something and to bring us closer to God. I also believe that we won’t understand why we have to suffer but that its for a greater good – one we may not see. The outcome of that suffering may be a miracle but often it is not. While I believe this – I admit to struggling with the idea that what God allows is often a case of Russian Roulette. There is definitely a difference for me between what I’ve been taught and try to believe and how I often feel.
I also want to say that I find Carrien’s comment and tone a little judgmental – I really struggle with “churchy” people and this comment is a good example of why. You don’t need to agree with the post but if you want to point out why, it would be helpful if you did so backing up your rational with examples – the very thing you point out Catherine hasn’t done and part of what you criticize her for.

report abuse


posted July 30, 2009 at 9:53 am

Catherine, I so agree. God does not work that way, but he does expect us to pray, to ask, but will that change the mind of God, I think not. After all do we as parents give into a whiny begging child, I pray NO. Sometimes the father of us all knows much more then we can even comprehend. His will and ways are just and all knowing just sometimes we simply do not get it. I know when faced with the bad I dont some days.

report abuse

carrien (she laughs at the days)

posted July 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Mel, I was not trying to be judgy at all, just the opposite.
I want to understand. I want to hear Catherine further support her position. She has written very clearly some things, but parts of it are a puzzle to me. Is it judgy to ask specific questions about her position and wait to see if she responds?
I’ve never known Catherine to shy away from dialogue regarding the things she writes about.
I am fully willing to back up my position. But it seems that in a forum such as this I ought to shut up and allow the other person to respond before I start writing essays supporting my position in her comments section.

report abuse

Chrissy B

posted July 30, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Thank you for this beautiful post. So well spoken, and really describes some of my feelings that I’ve never been able to put into words. I know that everyone has their own opinions and ways of doing things, and I rather like yours :-)

report abuse


posted July 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

That was really thougtful. All my life I wondered about how God would make that decision, that this person should die and the other one should live. I used to wonder why God should listen to my prayers for high marks in exam where people pray for their lives.
My friend’s father used to say,”Is God a politician if He does things for you just because you prayed more than the other guy?”

report abuse


posted August 1, 2009 at 2:38 am

One interesting thing about praying for intervention: God talks back to you. In a strange way. Very non-obvious but something peculiar happens. As an experiment, consider praying for exactly what you want to happen and see. My experience with praying for direct intervention in this way has been interesting. But I wouldn’t say that this happens the same way with everyone. I’m sure it does not.
Maybe you can get this if you temper prayer with what it seems reasonable to pray for. But I actually think that praying for intervention does not require any specific view about what God does or doesn’t do or will or won’t do. You aren’t committed to any special assumptions about how the universe works, about God or about anything, really. It seems like you are but you need not be. You’re just asking God for something. (Maybe it is a LITTLE contradictory to ask God for something and then have a view that God doesn’t do little somethings for various people…So what I mean is: It’s possible to just be like ‘who knows how you do things God?’ and then pray for the thing you need. That’s what I mean by not being committed. Of course, what often happens to people is that they get exactly what they need in bizarre ways and then they are like ‘Gee, maybe God does intervene!’ But even then, you really have no idea if God does or doesn’t.
Basically, praying for intervention can simply be: I don’t know in advance what God does or doesn’t do. So what the heck.

report abuse


posted August 1, 2009 at 3:01 pm

This is sane, and reasonable, and loving, three words that very, very sadly don’t often apply to those who pray. Thank you for this.

report abuse

Your Name

posted August 2, 2009 at 9:37 am

Thank you for this wise post. You’ve given me a lot to think about.
I believe it’s a kind of hubris to assume that because a loved one recovers from a serious illness, it was a miraculous healing brought about by prayer. Does it then follow that there aren’t enough prayers being made on behalf of those who die?
It comforts many of us to know that others are praying on our behalf, that they are praying for the continued good health of our children, or praying for alleviation of our suffering. Prayer in this sense to me is a form of active compassion. We’re brought closer to God as we take on the suffering of another so that that person might feel less alone. This is one of the most meaningful interventions brought about by prayer.
“I pray for patience and understanding for myself, such that I might face a world that is full of sadness and pain with grace.” This is a very brave prayer. Thank you for sharing it with us.

report abuse

Leslie Bianco

posted August 4, 2009 at 2:44 pm

The ultimate prayer, of course, is “Thy will be done.” But that can be an awfully tough one to live by. I’ll pray for your nephew and those who love him.

report abuse


posted August 10, 2009 at 10:04 pm

You pose some interesting points, but I’m going to ask you to look at it from a different point of view – not to persuade you, but just to throw some additional thoughts out there. Take it as you will.
I don’t agree with your position on prayer – and we don’t have to agree to be happy and healthy human beings, but I’m going to explain why.
The Bible actually commands us to come to God with our requests. I’m going to give you a few examples of where it says this:
Ephesians 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Matthew 7:9-11 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!
There are also many examples in the Old Testament of those who were faithful, and the Lord intervened on their behalf – Daniel in the lion’s den for example. So, I think faith may have something to do with it – but I don’t think there is a formula. Our finite minds can never come close to understanding why some are spared while other seemingly faithful people are not. It is not God’s will for us to suffer here – it is not God’s will for us to sin, but we all do it everyday. He gave us free will. He gave us this life so that we could choose Him by our own free will. With that free will comes bad things. God can intervene, but He won’t always – if he doesn’t, there may be a reason we don’t understand. It’s not at all about persuasion – God is not like us, we cannot persuade Him. He already knows what we will ask for before we ask it, and He has already made the decision to intervene or not before we were even born to ask it. Talk about a mind job!!!
You say you don’t want to believe in a God who can be persuaded just by a fickle prayer, but I submit to you that prayer is more than words – it is faith and a humbling of oneself to God’s decision of that prayer, be it what we want or not, and knowing that we don’t deserve His mercy, but our faith in His sacrifice allows us to. I don’t want to believe that I can’t go to my Heavenly Father with my troubles. From what I understand, He wants us to do that.
Finally, one of your final sentences, “I pray that doctors and scientists be inspired to do their very best work in caring for these children and in searching for cures for their conditions.” Isn’t that a specific request also? No, it isn’t necessarily for a particular person, but it is for a particular thing. If you don’t pray that right, will the doctors and scientists not be inspired?
Catherine, I say this not to judge what you believe – I’m glad that you pray, and God knows what’s in your heart, just as He does mine. The fact that we disagree on this technicality is really minor. But, I just wanted to give you something else to think about. It is okay to pray for these children you speak of – God will hear you, and it may not turn out the way you want, but your faithfulness in Him will be rewarded in other areas. I hope this helps even a little, and I’m not trying to be preachy at all…I just have the gift of gab, so you’ll have to excuse me :-) Take care!

report abuse


posted December 23, 2009 at 6:48 am

I agree with the above post by Kira… The scriptures posted are indeed Gods instruction on prayer. Why would God instruct us to pray if it did not matter to him or if it did nothing of value? I doubt God would instruct us in this way just to have entertainment. No! He instructs us to pray because he DOES listen and DOES care! Because God is all knowing with infinite wisdom, he will answer our prayers in the best way that it can possibly be answered, according to his perfect knowledge and wisdom! Prayer is absolutely worth it and it is to bring us closer to God, not to treat him like a genie. So Pray on and always!

report abuse


posted August 6, 2010 at 2:34 am

I stumbled across your blog recently and wanted to say that I really liked reading your post. Personally, I do not align myself to any particular religion, mostly because I haven’t found one that I can find peace in. I often like to think of God in a particular way and I have a hard time finding peace with a God who does things such as let someone survive and another die. I like to think that God would know what the best choice to make is based on the billions of possibilities and makes that choice based on the best future for everyone, regardless of who prays for a specific person.

report abuse

Pingback: Faith No More…Or Never Was

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Their Bad Mother. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Inspiration Report Life As A Concious Mom Happy Reading!!! ...

posted 4:50:01pm Jul. 05, 2012 | read full post »

The Road To Heaven Is Paved With Maracas
Last weekend, I went to Mass for the first time in well over a decade. To say that it was a strange and disorienting experience would be to understate things dramatically. But it was also a deeply comforting and familiar experience. I know that ...

posted 9:30:01am Mar. 09, 2011 | read full post »

Dear God (On The Catholic Church And Abuse And Evil And Crises Of Faith)
This weekend, I read an article in New York Times Magazine about the crisis surrounding the Catholic Church in Ireland as new, horrible, stories emerge about sexual abuse of children and efforts by the Church to cover up those stories. It was a ...

posted 1:34:44pm Feb. 16, 2011 | read full post »

Buy Yourself Roses For Valentine's Day
You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your ...

posted 9:07:07am Feb. 10, 2011 | read full post »

There But For A Rocking Chair: On Love and Fear and Keeping Our Children Safe
Before Emilia was born, I fussed endlessly about babyproofing. Never mind that it would be months before she would even enter the world, let alone move around it and find its electrical outlets: I was convinced that when it came to babies, there ...

posted 6:46:18pm Dec. 16, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.