May 23rd, 2016 12:56am
Does prayer help people recover from illness? Some studies say yes, some say no. But when prayer doesn’t seem to help, what happens to the faith of devout believers? When you’ve prayed and prayed and yet a loved one does not get better and perhaps dies, what then?
Over my twenty-two years of medical practice, I have been around death and dying a lot; around people who believe in prayer and around others who did not; around people who believe in God and an after-life and those who did not. It’s been my observation that people who call themselves religious and/or God-fearing die just the same as those who do not.
Why pray, then? I’ll get to that in a minute.
How often are the words uttered, “He died before his time.”? We heard that when the actor James Gandolfini died suddenly in June 2013. And we heard similarly when Whitney Houston died not too long ago. Well, don’t get me wrong, but in my opinion, when we die, it is precisely the right time for us.
Of course, it is never the right time for those surviving, but for the deceased, it is their time. That doesn’t mean we have no control over the time of our demise; we can surely accelerate the right time to die by poor lifestyle choices. That may be what happened in the cases of James Gandolfini and Whitney Houston, though in Gandolfini's case, it might appear less obvious; but he died of a heart attack having multiple risk factors, the kind we can control with better lifestyle choices.
But leaving aside the issue of lifestyle, I believe we die at our right time. To me, this is comfort when someone close to me dies or with the death of young children due to illness or accident.
Would praying more make someone destined for death live longer? I believe the role of prayer comes when someone is in a position that may cause death before what seems like his or her time. That may explain why some prayer studies actually do show a benefit. We cannot possibly know when it is the right time for someone else to die, so I feel we should pray for anyone for whom we are inspired to pray.
My personal technique of prayer is a form of meditation, and vice versa. One of my favorite quotes from an unknown author is, "When we pray we talk to God. When we meditate God talks to us. I recommend invoking prayer only when you have a deep caring for the person and a sincere, selfless wish for their continued life and health. Furthermore, rather than direct our prayers to another entity (God, for example), I find it more effective to engage our mind in active visualization. We have an innate (God-given, I believe) ability to contribute to healing. By praying for God to do the work, in my opinion, we question that gift and diminish its power.
So the next time someone dies on your “prayer watch,” don’t let it stop you. There is someone whose time has not come, who needs you, needs your caring. Picture that person in your mind and picture yourself with them. Try visualizing angels surrounding their bed. Put yourself in the recovery scene with the person and the angels and rejoice in their life and their health.
If the time is not right for them to die, they will survive and reaffirm your faith in the power of your mind. But if they do die, pray that they will discover upon death something impossible for us to comprehend fully in life—a spiritual plain not governed by reason and logic or bound by natural laws. A space where our soul remains alive and breathes in a way that defies the understanding of our mortal sensibilities.