Prayer, Pain and Control

Pain has a lot to do with prayer. If I pray that my pain will go away, and it doesn’t, what does that say about prayer? What does it say about God?  What does it say about the way I pray?

Recently I was in pain, physical and emotional, and I could not pray it away.  I “knew” what I believed, and I “knew” the answers to my questions, but I was still very, very sad. Underneath the sadness were questions about whether or not God is really who I think God is, if prayer is really what I think it is, and if my faith is really grounded in truth. When you are in pain, it’s hard to answer those questions.

Today, reflecting on this experience (in prayer, no less,) I realized that my prayer has a lot to do with my desire to be in control. David Benner says that our desire for control (in life in general) keeps us “saying ‘I can’ when the truth would be to acknowledge ‘I can’t’” (Soulful Spirituality, p. 159).  I do that, and disguise it as prayer. I often have the illusion that by praying, I can determine what will or will not happen. I pray out of my desire to be in control rather than out of my relationship with a loving God.

In the pain, along with the questions, was the longing for a more loving, trusting relationship with God. Indeed, Benner says that “at some deep level of spirit, we know we were meant to live in alignment with forces transcendent to ourselves” (p. 159).  Negative events are “invitations to surrender the dominance of our ego and its relentless demands for control” (p. 158).

I agree, but how then do I respond to this recent painful experience? I will continue to have questions. In my life I will certainly face greater pain and times of deeper sadness. But, at least this time, I want to accept God’s invitation to surrender my ego’s desire for control to God’s transcendent presence in my life.

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What have you noticed about your prayer when you’re in pain?


Alice Fryling:
frylingAlice Fryling is a spiritual director and author. Her most recent book is Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction. She teaches Enneagram workshops in the Chicago area with her colleague Jessie Vicha. Alice and her husband Bob have two grown daughters and four grandchildren.
    • Amen. As I’ve gotten older (62), I have come to realize (thanks be to God) that praying a confession that He is LORD and always present is the best I can do . . . for myself and to please Him. It’s a Brother Lawrence thing I guess, just submitting and expecting His Presence even when I don’t sense or feel Him? The letters on death and pain from Brother Lawrence and other ancients are full of this wisdom, good reason to go there and find it for ourselves. “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you.” Claim that and leave the rest up to Him.

    • By the way, this (my earlier post) is not some kind of pollyanna talk. I’ve suffered both physical and emotional (spiritual) trauma in my life. I’ve suffered through times of despair, but those times have taught me to lean on Him . . . to lean into Him . . . to fall into His arms and surrender. It is a “journey” we all will probably have to take in this world, but fear not, He has overcome the world, and yes, He will never leave or forsake us. That knowledge (mind and heart) can and will see us through, even unto death and new life.

    • As Patrick already covered, this is a lesson of life that often (if not always) follows trauma. Usually our first attempt to deal with the trauma is to resort to safety – hiding, avoiding, and isolating. After this fails to work, we will then be ready to accept pain as a teacher. I’m still not joyfully resting in His arms, but I am beginning to rest.