Praying in Times of Crisis
In the most difficult times, God waits to love and comfort us
Times of crisis are, perhaps, the most important times to turn to God. Sometime we cry, "Help me!" or "Please!" or "Save me!" God wants to be there for us. God wants us to turn and ask for intimacy, comfort and help.
For many of us, this is a very difficult time to pray. We don't exactly know what to ask for. We feel like asking for a miracle, but experience might have shown us that asking for miracles in the past has left us disappointed. We may even have become cynical about God - having asked for help when I really needed it, and not getting what I asked for. Perhaps I prayed that my grandmother would recover from her illness and she didn't. Maybe I prayed that my biopsy would come back negative, but it didn't. I might have asked for a raise I desperately needed and didn't get it. Did I pray to rescue a deteriorating relationship, and my prayer wasn't answered?
Changing our Image of God
At some time in our lives we have to confront an image of God as a magician - an all powerful Superman, who can fix anything, if he only chose to. Part of the reason why this image is so difficult to give up is that we may not know what to replace it with. A path to prayer opens up when we let God be the tender, compassionate God of the scriptures and when we let Jesus reveal God's Good News to us. In this faith, God does not manage the world like a puppeteer, pulling strings to suspend natural laws in capricious response to individuals' prayers. In faith, God is revealed as a God of power, in the midst of those places where God is most power-less. In faith, God grieves with us at the tragedies of life. In faith, we are freed by the Good News that God has overcome the ultimate power of sin and death. God has not prevented sin and death from happening. When we believe in God's mercy and trust that our lives were created for eternal life in God, we are liberated from a fear of sin and death which can paralyze us.
Let's take some common crises and look at how we might turn to God in them. The word crisis comes from the Greek krisis, decision. It connotes a time of judgment when we have come to a juncture in our lives, which we call critical. It is a turning point, a time when the "bottom falls out" or everything seems "turned upside down." It is de-stabilizing, dis-orienting, and confusing. The experience "takes our breath away" and threatens to overwhelm us. We feel we don't know how to cope, where to turn, and fear grips us.
A Taste of Our Own Mortality
Death and disability bring the greatest crises into our lives. Most of us would say that the death or disability of a loved one is one of the greatest crises we can face in life. Our own disability or approaching death stops us in our tracks and threatens to take away our peace and hope. To the extent we live our lives in some "denial of death," the trauma this reality inflicts upon us can be quite severe. To the degree the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus gives us hope throughout our lives, the arrival of disability or the approach of death - still very difficult to face on a human level - fits into our faith and our expectation about life and our place in it.
Disability is something we all face with time. We age, we gradually face life with diminished capacities. Our body - and our emotional well-being that is so dependent upon it - are susceptible to breakdowns. Everything from arthritis to mental illness, from heart problems to a sexual or chemical addiction, from a leaky bladder to emotional insecurity are all tastes of our mortality, of our being limited human beings. In prayer, we can turn to God for help. These can be experiences that lead to despair, or they can be experience that lead to humility and deeper gratitude for God's love. In these diminishments, we can best experience God's love for us, for in our powerlessness, we can experience our need for a Savior and God's ready embrace.
The fear of death is itself quite traumatizing. A lump in the breast or a positive prostate antigen test can paralyze us with fear. The weeks of waiting for further results can be a time of stunned denial, acute depression, or deep grace. Fear of the unknown is appropriate, but it can be transformed by faith and a turning to God to beg for help. There is the fear of the dying process, but the fear of leaving loved ones behind or of leaving my life's work undone can be overwhelming. By turning to God during these times, we can enter more deeply into the profound mystery of our mortality and a humble sense of our fragility and powerlessness. Our gratitude for life itself, and our relationships in it, can become renewed and changed forever. Then, in the midst of a serious health crisis, our fear can give way to an inner peace and trust in the God who loves us.
When the mystery of death visits us, it is like the world stops. In faith, we can turn to God and ask for the grace to understand how Jesus fell into God's loving hands. We can ask to surrender a loved one, or our own life, to God's loving embrace. We can ask to live in this life, with our hearts set on the life that will never end. Part of the trauma of death is the severing of relationships. In some cases, we can't imagine living without the other, or the pain of leaving loved ones is unbearable. Our faith gives us the opportunity to enter into a new relationship, beyond death's destruction of the body. We believe we can continue to be in communion and communication with loved ones, after death. Letting those relationships continue to grow, now liberated from the barriers that sometimes handicap our relating in this life, can give us real comfort and a foretaste of eternal life. Never seeing or touching a loved one again in this life is a profound loss. It takes faith and practice, but we can grow into a profound relationship with loved ones, after death.
Crisis in a Relationship
The breakdown of relationship or divorce is a time of tremendous crisis. During these times, there is not only a sense of loss, but we are overcome with a sense of failure or defeat or disillusionment. We may be feeling anger, guilt, revenge, worthlessness, depression or denial. If there are children involved, the messiness and pain extends to innocent ones we love, and often for a very long time. This can appear to be a most difficult time to pray. We might be either too ashamed to turn to God, too afraid of what God will say, or simply ready to blame God for not rescuing me from this terrible tragedy. And, if we have neglected our relationship with God in the "good times," it seems to be too much to try to "develop" in this time of crisis.
God's Desire to Love and Comfort Us
This is obviously the most important time to pray. The insight that makes it work is that God fully understands. The God who made me, who has been with me at every moment in my life, is not surprised or confused. God has only one desire - to console me when I'm in need of assurance and to challenge me when I'm tempted to run away. I don't have to explain it all to God. I can let myself say, "I know you understand. I know you grieve too. I know you alone can help me face the future after this." This is profound prayer. It opens the door to deeper dependence, deeper intimacy and deeper discernment. These kinds of crises can be powerful experiences of humility and honesty that can help me from becoming bitter and save me, heal me and raise me up to love again.
There are many other destabilizing crises that can happen in our lives and seem to be difficult times to pray. Financial crises, the loss of a job, the realization that I spoiled children I wanted to love, the crises that happen to loved ones. Then there is the non-crisis, but very uncentering chronic sense of a lack of fulfillment in what I'm doing. These, too, are very important times to turn to God and experience God's love and freedom. Nothing can take our peace away, unless we let it - unless we try to cope with it outside of the faith, hope and love God desires to offer us. When we have to say, "My life is in your hands," we find the deepest desire of our lives and the source of our greatest strength. All losses, all love is transformed when we live out of the dying and rising love of Jesus for us. All strength for heroic living and all passion for self-sacrificing love is born in the heart that has been stripped, loved and freed.
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