My journey to shoot for the moon.

Recently, there was a Dear Abby column where the writer asked about how to respond when someone said (in response to hearing about a serious illness or death), “I’m praying for you.”  I did write a response, but who knows if it’ll be published.  And then I started thinking that I was quite qualified to write my own blog post on the topic.For the last three and a half years, I have heard so many people say that they were praying for Chris, that I can’t keep track of how many have said it.  Chris doesn’t believe prayer will help him.  The boys don’t either.  I don’t know if it will help, but it certainly won’t hurt.

I’ve taught the boys to say “thank you,” and to leave it at that when someone tells them that they are praying for our family.  It is the polite thing to do.  It was one of the conversations that we had shortly after Chris’ diagnosis and we were all bewildered and overwhelmed.   We had so many offers of help and comfort that we couldn’t see straight.  I’m not complaining.  At that point, everything caught us off-guard.

As time has passed and I got a new job, David entered high school and Michael plays soccer for different coaches with different teammates, the issue has not lessened.  Just after Thanksgiving I sent an email out to my colleagues about Chris (I couldn’t remember who knew about his Lung Cancer and who didn’t), I received many responses of, “I am praying for you and your family.”

I don’t mind the praying for us.  It isn’t going to hurt anything and after all this time, I realize that other people don’t know what to say when they find out about Chris or we have bad news.  Their offers of prayer are genuine and if they feel that it will help, who am I to tell them otherwise.  It gives them something positive that they can do and feel that they are helping.  Offering prayer is comforting to them in dealing with our unimaginable situation.

Religion isn’t a topic we talk about with acquaintances; it is something that doesn’t generally come up.  But when dealing with sharing Chris’ condition, it comes up regularly and so my boys have had to deal with being Atheists and prayer at a young age.  They’ve learned that when someone tells you they are praying for you, it isn’t the time to explain that you don’t believe in G*d; it isn’t the time to explain you don’t believe that prayer has any power.  It is time to be gracious and accept the wish of the person to do something for you.  The person is trying to offer comfort and reconcile their own feelings of helplessness.

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Comments on: "Responding to Dear Abby – Advice for Non-Believers" (5)

  1. Robin, Can you explain the significance of your using “G*d” vs. actually spelling out God? As a former doubter and former borderline atheist, I sometimes understand where you are coming from with this, and sometimes take offense at your use of G*d. I battle with the idea that because you are not a believer that you do not have to show respect by spelling his name properly… and where that all falls into place in the life of an English teacher… I feel such negative energy from these posts and want to better understand.

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  2. Robin, your belief or lack thereof does not make a difference in prayer for you and your family. I would like to point out that Chris has survived for quite a long time past his original diagnosis. This is evidence to me that something has happened to extend his life and the quality of it. You and your family are in my prayers. I pray that you and the boys are going to be able to handle the tough times ahead of you and that Chris will not suffer too much. I think the point is that if the person praying feels that he/she is helping by doing that, then there is a reason for it. You may not believe, but who is to say He does not believe in you and your family.

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    • Dearest Heidi –

      Yes, Chris has survived past the original prognosis. Chris and the boys would say it was due to science and the clinical trial drug. A religious person would probably disagree and say that it was divine intervention. I don’t know what I believe. But whatever the reason, I’m not going to knock it.

      I do not believe that a higher power has the inclination or ability to impact our individual lives. However, there has been research about the power of prayer and how it can be effective in helping manage illness. I do not doubt it – prayer and meditation are very similar and I know how meditation can change the body.

      I respect that you pray (and believe) and I greatly appreciate your prayers for my family. They are an extension of you and your fondness for us.

      The point of my post was that since people generally do not know what to say and they show their care and concern by saying they will pray for you, it should not be taken negatively by someone who does not believe. It should be taken and accepted as it is meant – a gift that the person wants to give to you because they can pray for you and they believe in a higher power.

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