Prayer Doesn't Do Anything
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Prayer Doesn't Do Anything

Thoughts on the motivations behind prayer.

Prayer Doesn't Do Anything
Reaching Campus

This past weekend, walking back to my friend’s car half-drunk after a street festival, I passed a homeless woman sleeping on the sidewalk. I felt a wave of guilt wash over me, because I had just blown over $30 of my paycheck on luxuries and alcohol, and I only had $7 left in cash. At first, I walked by the woman and thought to myself automatically, “I’ll pray for her,” and felt a brief moment of ease.

Growing up a traditional Christian, prayer was always something I could return to when I felt powerless. Invoking the name of Jesus or muttering a prayer is like second nature to me. However, in the last few months or so, I’ve become disenchanted by the idea of prayer (which is a whole other story for a whole other day).

I am not saying this is true for every religious person, but throughout my life, I have witnessed people of faith treating prayer as a security blanket. Prayer seems to be used as a comfort zone of “I can do something without actually having to do anything.” Faith in a higher power makes it believable that when we pray, we make something happen. As though we have the power to “storm heaven with prayer,” enslave an omnipotent God, and bend Him according to our will.

I believe that when we rely on prayer as our only action, we are being hypocritical (Emphasis on the word “only.” I’m not saying don’t pray -- I’m saying don’t let that be all you do).

I walked back down the sidewalk and gave that woman my $7. I didn’t feel good about doing so, because what is $7? That’s barely a meal. My $7 isn’t going to help that woman find a safe place to use the restroom in the middle of the night, or protect her from predators of any sort.

But at least it’s something.

And I know that people of faith who genuinely believe in prayer honestly think that they are doing something. There’s no proof, certainly not. You must have faith in order to turn coincidences into God-moments. I am not trying to discredit the hope and comfort many people find in prayer. When we see someone struggling or we hear something unfortunate, we say, “I’ll pray for him/her/it,” and then continue on with our lives, feeling better for knowing we can pray for people.

But what happens when prayer isn’t enough (and often it isn’t)? My whispered prayers are not going to feed starving children, protect victimized women, or save refugees from human cruelty. My Our Fathers are not equivalent to grains of rice to feed someone who has become familiar with hunger pangs. Praying for someone at a service is not the same thing as going out and meeting the hurting and the vulnerable where they are.

I spent my freshman and sophomore years at a Christian college. The entire duration of my time there, I led a volunteer-based group out to the sidewalks of D.C. where we tried to reach out and help women in crisis pregnancies. We went out early every single Saturday morning, rain, snow, shine. There were many times I tried to recruit my nearest and dearest friends to go with me. While they were rejecting my invitation, they informed me, “But I’ll pray for you and those women,” as though that was supposed to comfort me. I even had the college chaplain tell me that I would do better to pray for those women in the chapel rather than go out and meet them in person.

The hypocrisy deeply disgusted me. Those in need cannot see us praying for them in the chapel. Our prayers are not tangible healing hands and helpful hearts. Our prayers make us feel like we have done something good, when, arguably, we haven’t done anything at all.

I respect people of faith, and I respect their belief in the power of prayer. However, I cannot respect using prayer as an excuse to not actually do something — really do something. I believe that this sort of hypocrisy not only discredits prayer and faith, but cheapens what it means to be a religious person.

We may need prayer, but what we need more is a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food in our bellies and comfort during the dark patches of life.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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