Who Does Prayer Benefit? You or the person you are praying for …. or both?!

Last  year one of my very best friends was diagnosed with ovarian cancer out of the blue.  She had no cysts, no tumors, and no bad tests – there was nothing that could have prepared her for the phone call she received one afternoon two weeks after having a “routine” hysterectomy that I had talked her into having performed.  She had been on the fence for months trying to decide whether or not to have the surgery, which her doctor had advised, but had not mandated.  All-in-all it was considered an elective surgery as there was nothing “major” to warrant any concern.  Making the decision to have the surgery saved her life; I told her that I believe God placed on my heart the need to make sure she had that surgery when she did because I drove her nuts about it for months.
I have known Jill (not her name – being nice to my friends today) since 1989 when I began working with her at a major law firm in Oklahoma City; I was very nervous as I began work at “the firm” because it had an outstanding reputation in the community, and I did not feel as though I was smart enough to be working there at the time.  It took Jill about five days to break me of the thought that I was not good enough to work at “the firm” (when I put the firm in quotes, it is because of the tone of voice everyone uses when talking about this law firm – people made it sound like “the Vatican” when speaking of it).  Needless to say, we became immediate friends and very close.  She stood by me as I went through a heartbreaking divorce, I helped her break her four pack-a-day cigarette habit (keep in mind this was years ago and a pack of cigarettes did not require the buyer to take out a payday loan) and bury her last cigarette butt, we made it through boy emergencies, and consoled one another when a beloved pet passed on.  For over 20 years I had NEVER heard or seen Jill cry; on that day I could barely understand what she was telling me on the phone when she kept sobbing and repeating “I’ve got cancer, its cancer, cancer…”

I was raised in a Christian home where prayer was a very important part of our lives; my mother was a devout and strict Southern Baptist woman and my father was a Christian, but more moderate in his views.  We prayed and we had faith that things would work out; however, that did not keep either my mother or me from becoming worry-warts about every little thing.  Naturally, my response to Jill’s crisis was immediately to stop everything I was doing and pray.  I called some of Jill’s and my closest friends and gave them the news.  We started a prayer circle of epic proportions because at its very core, I had faith that prayer would work and would work immediately before the doctor put the stage number and all of the “doctor things” to the diagnosis that would stick with the diagnosis for the rest of our lives – Jill, me, Jill’s brand new boyfriend, and my husband.

What once was a frightening and somewhat dire diagnosis was described later as a “fluke” that it was discovered, and it was only discovered because the doctor decided to send a sliver of tissue from one ovary to be tested.  Jill had the lightest and “best” cancer possible to have in the ovaries; she had radiation and she chose to go through a rigorous schedule of chemotherapy in hopes of fighting off any other chances that she could develop cancer elsewhere.  More than once she thanked me for gathering the troops and starting the prayers; she said that she always felt very calm and peaceful during her treatments and her chemo treatments did not devastate her lifestyle, which was amazing to her doctor due to the level of radiation, and chemo with which she was being infused weekly.

I tell you my story about Jill because for my second class studying for my doctorate in psychology, I was asked to read an article specifically about prayer and healing.  I chose an article written by a woman named Jeannette Cooperman; she wrote about her initial reactions to being diagnosed with melanoma out of the blue and her friends’ request to perform a “healing prayer” on her.  She thought that this prayer was way too “evangelical” for her tastes, and wondered if her friends were going to slap her on the forehead and then catch her as she fell to the ground; obviously Ms. Cooperman had seen some type of “healing” service on cable television at some point in time.  In addition, Ms. Cooperman was hesitant to participate claiming that she was an introvert, and did not participate in public expressions such as the proposed “healing prayer”.  Furthermore, she did not even know if she should pray for God’s healing or pray for His will to be done.  Finally, she allowed her friends to perform the healing prayer because she just could not imagine a nice way to tell her friends “no”!

Ms. Cooperman participated in the healing prayer and reported a feeling of “sweet consolation”, somewhat akin to a parent placing a loving hand on a child’s feverish forehead, or any other kind, loving gesture.  She said that as she rose from kneeling, she was not nervous any longer; in fact, she said she walked back to her seat in a state of utter serenity.  Four days later she underwent surgery to remove the area that had the melanoma present, as well as other areas around it just to be safe.  She reported that she slept soundly, and quite well, the night before her surgery, and had no fear as she waited for her procedure.  She said that she was so calm that she was the one to joke with the nurses and even made a grumpy doctor laugh.

A few days after her surgery, Ms. Cooperman’s plumbing system in her bathroom went haywire while her husband was on a business trip; it was painful and frustrating for her to clean up the mess and fix the problem.  Once everything was taken care of, she sat down on the front steps of her house and began to cry.  All of a sudden she looked up and there were her friends that performed the healing prayer on her before her surgery.  They had decided to come and visit, and bring communion with them to her house; they also brought her a teddy bear to cheer her up.  The women participated in the communion service there in her living room with her dog at their feet.  Later, Ms. Cooperman summed up the experiences of the healing prayer and the unexpected visit of her friends by saying that their acts of prayer and faith brought her to a place of calmness during her trials.  She said she felt like she was in the hearts and minds of hundreds of people who were praying for her, regardless of whatever the outcome would be.  To her the calmness was healing in itself.

Jill said the same thing to me several times during her “cancer journey” last year.  I saw her Friday for the first time in two months or so, and she looked like Jill again.  We laughed that everything had come full circle because I had the shortest hair again and now she was spending hundreds of dollars to get her full head of hair colored again.  Life does return to normal after cancer for the lucky ones; but Jill was even luckier than most because she felt the touch and love of prayer from those who knew and loved her, and even from strangers she will never meet.  She met cancer head-on and she won, with the help of God through prayer.

Prayer is the glue that binds people together in our society.  We pray for those we don’t know; for example, I pray for those who are serving our country outside of the United States.  I know that I will never meet them, but I know that at least one soldier will feel calm and loved tonight; perhaps he will feel the loving touch of a warm hand on his heart and know that there are people praying for his safety and good will back home.  If that allows him to rest easy and have a sound night of sleep, then my prayers are definitely worth it.

What are your thoughts on prayer?  One of my classmates asked me if I thought the person praying received more benefit from the prayers than the unknown “masses” that receives the benefits of the prayers.  I do pray for people I don’t know at all quite frequently.  I see a post on Face Book or on Twitter, and my immediate reaction is to stop and pray for that person.  Do I feel good after I pray; yes, I do only because I do believe that prayer works and that it touches others that are not even believers.  Maybe I am naïve and, if I am, that’s ok – I’ll just keep praying because like I said, my dad came home from World War II being stationed in the worst area possible and able to see that flag raised on Iwo Jima that day due the grace of God and through prayers.  I’ll pray and I’ll have Faith because that’s just what I do!

Have a good week – now on to that final 10 page paper for this class….