Monday, January 19, 2009

Does prayer help?

Since my diagnosis with breast cancer (still very weird to type that), many people have told me that they are "praying for me." I find this a) comforting, and b) disconcerting. Comforting, because it's just nice that people care, and that they want to express their caring by praying to whoever it is they pray to. Disconcerting, because I don't know if I really believe that prayer is really going to help a whit.

I read Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People years ago, and I do find comfort in the thought that while G-d isn't sitting up there controlling day to day life down here, G-d is supporting us through whatever hard times we are having.

On the other hand, I don't know if I really believe in G-d. And even if I do, I doubt G-d had anything to do with this cancer, and whether I will or will not recover from it.

So there.

But back to prayer. So in shul, there is a time, during the Torah service, when the rabbi says if anyone knows of someone who is sick, to come up and give him the name of this person, and the rabbi offers a prayer for healing (a mi shebeirach) and recites the names of all the people who are sick. I always feel a bit weird during this part of the service. It isn't really very Jewish to ask G-d for anything; at least, that's how I was brought up. So this whole asking G-d for healing thing seems pretty strange to me.

So I am. I probably could use some healing right now, and even if I don't believe in it, people I know do believe. So there are a bunch of prayers going up to G-d right now with my name in them. Not sure how I feel about that. Yes, I do. Both comforted, and a bit disconcerted.


Leigh Ann said...

Regardless of G-d's exact role, the mi sheberach does at least one very important thing - it links you together with our ancestors, and with any Jew for whom one has been said.
It links you to a people who, in times of despair and fear, cries out to G-d - not because they know it will help, but because that's what Jews do in times of crisis.
It links you to those in your community who want to feel that they're doing something to help.

And it links you to Jews like me,who have never met you, and to those with whom I pray, who have no idea who you are, but in that moment, are also praying for a refuah shleimah for you.


Sarah said...

I was taught much the same as you Adena, to not ask for specific things, to not bargain with G-d.

But here is what I have slowly been learning in my adult life - does it matter if it helps? Prayer can't hurt at all and what if it does help? Bonus!

Also it gives the people who care something to do. Especially those of us too far away to come and do anything concrete.

So I will say I have you on my prayer list and hope you get something out of it somehow.

Anonymous said...

Hey Adena - I also didn't learn to how to ask for help growing up. I've learned some amazing things lately about prayer and asking for help. Would love to talk to you about it offline some time.
- Marcy

mother in israel said...

I'm sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I wish you a refuah shlemah.

Anonymous said...

I read your first three (four) paragraphs in awe because that's totally the way I feel. I too read Harold Kushner's When Bad Things... years ago and it's the one Jewish/spiritual book that made sense to me and had an impact on me.
I guess I'll say "I'm thinking of you" rather than "My prayers are with you" though that sounds so cliche but the truth is, I've been thinking of you a lot.

Anonymous said...

agreed. i have quite conflicted feelings about all this, which makes going to shul and tefilah in general kind of hard.