Sunday, June 06, 2010

The futility of prayer

I spent a few hours at the VA hospital today visiting my dad. He’s dying of cancer. I don’t know how long he will survive. I was asked by a woman visiting another patient if I was praying for my dad. I said no. She gave me a funny look but said no more.

Later, as I walked the halls, I noticed a man sitting in on a bed in an isolation room. His face was missing. Our eyes met briefly. I could see he wanted to die. It looked like cancer would claim his life soon, but not until he had suffered some more.

The hospital staff is amazing. I’ve have nothing but good things to say about the loving team that cares for my dad. I don’t know how they do it without suffering along with the patients.

As I was leaving I ran into a lady I had seen a few time visiting another patient. She asked how my dad was doing. I told her the truth, “He’s going to die soon.”

“I’ll hold him up in prayer, God will heal him, you’ll see.”

I sighed, “No thanks, nobody can help him now.”

She reached for my arm. I think she wanted to put her arm around me to comfort me. I told her to stop.

“God can do anything. He is our creator. Don’t give up hope.”

“I just saw a man without a face. He’s suffering at a level few of us will ever have to endure.”

“I pray for him every day.”

“Lady … your prayers do not help. He will die soon. So will my Dad.”

She continued to reach for me. We were in the elevator by now, there was little room to maneuver. I continued to brush away her hands. “Your dad is in God’s hands. God has a plan.”, she said.

“Lady, does God’s plan include slowly killing my dad over three years while keeping him in constant pain?”

She gulped and licked her lips, “God has a plan."

I cut her off, “Bullshit. If these was a caring God he’d cure the cancer and end the suffering.”

There was a loud ding. An electronic voice announced that the elevator was going up. I jumped off and started to walk away. She was old and fat, and not able to keep up with me. The last thing she said was, “I can have my pastor call you.” I did not respond.

I’m usually very tolerant of hospital prayer warriors. My parents are Christians, so are most of my family. When somebody says, “I’ll pray for your dad,” I understand it as a humane gesture of care. I smile and say thanks. When somebody tells me God will perform a miracle, I call bullshit. I might have been nicer if I had not seen the man without a face, it bothered me. I felt helpless. I hate the feeling, and I’m getting a lot of it now with my dad. Cancer sucks.

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