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Just Pray Harder: One Lie That We Are Told

When my son was two years old, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disorder. It was so rare that the doctor was not even certain that that was the right diagnosis. The only known solution was to throw steroids at it and hope for the best. For years, it was doctor visits, remission then relapse, testing, and medications.

Like Job in the Bible (Job 30:20), I cried out unto the Lord to take this sickness from my child. I asked why, wondering what I did wrong to cause this.

When I was a child, my father was an alcoholic - what people classify as a “functioning drunk.” People saw a man who did not stumble when he walked nor slur when he talked. He held a respectable job and paid his bills. I remember the nights praying and sobbing in the backseat when he drove home after too many drinks and the screaming fights and slamming doors.

I begged God for years to heal my father of his addiction. My prayers seemed to go unheard. I waited expectantly for the day when my dad was magically sober. But instead, he continued to drink. Our relationship was emotionally straining. I thought that if I were different, better, he would not drink. Maybe if I loved him more, he would quit.

When I moved to a new town, we visited churches, looking for the one to call home. One church that we went to was friendly, small, and inviting. As we settled into our seats, I whispered to my husband that I liked it there.

The sermon began and the pastor spoke. He declared that prayer was important. I nodded and thought, “Amen.” He emphasized that God was great and powerful. Again, I agreed. He preached that if you pray hard enough, God will take away your troubles. If you just pray hard enough, God will heal all disease and sickness. If you just pray hard enough, God will make everything perfect for you. I felt sick.

I looked at my son beside me, knowing the battle that had been waging inside his body for years. I thought about my father, knowing the legal struggles and relationship divides that came from his addiction.

That pastor was wrong.

God does not operate on a token economy for faith. Healing or being sick is not contingent on the amount of prayer or the level of belief in God. Just like my real father did not drink or get sober because of the amount of love that I had for him or the ways that I behaved, our Heavenly Father does not make things happen or not happen because of our quality of faith or quantity of prayers.

Creating the expectation that our relationship with God is nothing more than behavioral conditioning, such as that pastor stated, is detrimental. God does not require a certain measure of worship to get an outcome. He is not a roller coaster where you must be this tall to ride the ride. God has unconditional love for us, His children. However, like parents of real children, sometimes giving us what we ask for is not in our best interest. Just like I make decisions for my kids based on the long game (them becoming emotionally healthy and functioning adults), God gives us what we need for the big picture (our salvation).

The pastor’s message creates an expectation that we can control the outcome, and God, if we just do more. If I just read my Bible more, if I just attend church more, if I just worship louder or listen to the Christian radio station more frequently, then I can have a better life.

Similarly, it implies that bad things happen because you did not do enough. You were in a car accident because you forgot to give thanks at dinner. You have anxiety because you did not attend enough church. You are financially struggling because you did not tithe a specific amount.

These are lies.

You are not being punished because you did not do something to the level that God expected. Faith may have positive outcomes, such as feeling more peace or having a purpose to pursue. Attending church can lead to good things too, like being part of a community, having people that support and encourage you, or learning more about God. However, struggling with mental health, medical issues, relationships, substance misuse, and trauma are not consequences of disappointing God.

There are hard things in life because we live in a fallen and sinful world, with imperfect people and imperfect bodies. If you are struggling with these difficult parts of life, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is merely an indication that you are a human. If you are struggling with your relationship with God, asking for guidance and encouragement is not a sign of not having enough faith. It is an acknowledgement that you want to grow as a believer.

Do not think that you just need to pray harder to get better. Reach out to a trusted friend, a good therapist, or a reputable pastor for help. You deserve it and that is what God wants.

Carla Sue Castro, MA, LMHC is a licensed therapist serving as the Clinical Director at a small nonprofit organization, Family Centered Services that is based out of Bluffton, Indiana. Carla Sue is also the Executive Director of a new organization that strives to educate and advocate for diversity and inclusion for a variety of marginalized populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, neurodiverse persons, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and people with disabilities. This organization is called Elevate Wells County. Carla Sue enjoys reading, creating, and writing when she is not busy with family, friends, and with serving others.

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