Powerless and Ineffective

*A continuation of my summer series reflecting on my ongoing twelve-week internship with Lifeline Chaplaincy, in which I, along with three other college-aged interns, visit different patients at various hospitals in and around the Fort Worth area and offer them prayer and spiritual counsel. You can read my first post on the internship here.*

* * *

As she shared her story with me, she went on to mention that her pastor would be out of town the day of her surgery. But as a stroke of luck—or perhaps, in her eyes, a stroke of the pen in God’s hand—I was actually going to be back again the day of her surgery.

“You’re a life saver,” she said. “I was so worried that I wouldn’t have anyone to come and pray with me before my surgery, but now that you’re going to be there, I can feel better about the surgery and about my relationship with God.”

It was then that one of my greatest insecurities regarding this internship (aside from having to deal with people’s poor and misinformed theologies) was brought to the center stage of my mind.

I hate praying. Especially in front of people.

As each passing day goes by, I internally hope that no one asks me to pray before the meal, or that when I do inevitably pray with a patient I’m able to at least think of a good Bible verse or hymn lyric to go along with my feeble attempt at an original and impactful prayer handsmessage. At least then I won’t end up stumbling so drastically around my words—around my desire to please the patient without compromising my own personal beliefs or to provide comfort without accidentally saying something that might end up hurting the patient.

But now here, this woman was doing more than just accepting my [oftentimes reluctant] offer for prayer that I give during most of my visits, she was putting her trust in me and in the prayers I had told her I would give her later on in the week for the sake of her own spiritual life. And I was horrified.

Those who know me know I tend to overthink everything. They know that my self-consciousness often overrides my self-confidence and that that can end up leading to my own self-destruction.

Often alongside that fear lie my own insecurities about prayer itself. Prayer is meant to be a sacred act, a form of opening oneself up to one’s Creator in a humble and steadfast manner. And I always hesitate when it comes to even the simplest of prayers–even in the hospital–out of fear that my prayer is not humble enough or worthy enough or “right” enough.

While we can certainly pray for healing, or really anything else, what if it never comes? How does that affect the way we see God, or ourselves, or our pastors?

What happens when we learn that the God to whom we are praying does not work in the way our prayers often perceive him to?

This is not a new issue for me. For those who followed me on my journey in New York two summers ago, you might have read a post that offered similar laments from a younger and less experienced me based on a prayer walk I did two years ago today. In my subsequent blog post from a few days later, I wrote,

Prayer is difficult. It oftentimes doesn’t seem logical. I might even go so far as to say that it never seems logical…. [Rather,] it seems [more than anything else that prayer is] much more of an act of faith and trust [rather than a way to try to get God to work in one’s favor]. And that’s what I’ve been hearing all my life, but I’m starting to further realize how true that is.

Even after coming to that “conclusion”, however, I still don’t feel like I’ve made all that much progress regarding my own understanding of prayer. If anything, I feel like my understanding of prayer has gotten worse in these last two years. And that bothers me a lot.

That being said, I still want to believe that prayer is powerful and effective (as James 5:16 roughly states), and I want to believe that it is essential in maintaining a healthy relationship with God. Though I frequently struggle in recognizing it, I know that prayer is such an important element of the Christian’s life that I simply cannot allow myself to discount it as much as I often end up doing in my own life.

That is why I [eventually] brought myself to this ministry called Lifeline Chaplaincy that I was so reluctantly drawn to. That is why I made myself go to this woman’s room on the day of her surgery with an open heart and an open mind. I was ready to experience the true power of prayer.

Of course, when I made my way into her room, I found her asleep with her daughter sitting by her side. We caught each other up with the situation at hand, and she gladly allowed me to stumble across a prayer that, in my mind, had somehow lost most of its meaning. And I walked out of the room feeling disconnected and unresolved.

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