Praying, Even When You Don't Believe in God
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March 29, 2012 - Updated October 05, 2013


I wish I believed in God. I really do. I don't disbelieve, exactly, but I'm skeptical, and have been since the night I lay in bed at age 13, when I decided I was never going back to church.

This was a radical decision, considering that my father had practiced as a Presbyterian minister, my mother's parents had been Christian missionaries, and I was raised in a home where I was forbidden to take the name of the Lord in vain.

Despite getting confirmed into the Presbyterian church, spending Sunday mornings planted on a church pew staring at stained glass and listening -- kinda -- to sermons, I felt more and more estranged from religion as I moved into adolescence.

I felt estranged, period. I was the sole adopted person in my extended family and felt painfully aware of being different. A middle-class kid, I felt out of place in the elite private school I attended. And so, at thirteen, I sunk into what I realize now was a depression. A depression I didn't have language to talk about.

That night, when disconnection morphed into the darkness that enshrouded me, I stared at the ceiling and decided that there couldn't be a God. If there were a God, my self-absorbed adolescent brain reasoned, I wouldn't feel so bad. And since there was no God, and going to church had become an excruciating ordeal, I decided to pull the plug on religion altogether.

But once you've had something -- and I did have an early immersion in religion, with the organ music, the stained glass, the hymns -- it's hard having nothing. And so I developed a yearning for some kind of affiliation, something to move me, to make me say, yes, I believe that, I take comfort in that, I feel connected to that.

The closest I have come to that is through reading. The last paragraph of The Great Gatsby gives me goosebumps. To Kill a Mockingbird soothes my soul. And anything by neo-religious writer Anne Lamott gives me hope that I could, one day, have faith. Because she has it, even after years of bad choices, perhaps because of years of bad choices. And she writes about faith in her trademark blasphemous style, full of envy and despair and seeping neuroses, as she stumbles her way back to grace.

Many times during the past couple of years, when I have felt completely flattened by Prince's shenanigans and by my inability to take my son's pain away, I have taken out my copy of Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and skimmed it. After reading just a few lines, I am buoyed by the power of her words, the theme that runs through everything she writes, of beauty in brokenness, of finding strength when you feel beaten.

So I guess you could say reading Anne Lamott, for me, is kind of a religious experience. But it's still something that's done in solitude.

What I want is a community. A community of people who lift you up when you're down, who help you believe in something bigger than yourself, who need what you have to give in return.

But how do you get community if you don't go to church or a 12-step Program or belong to a quilting bee?

Something happened the other day to give me an idea.

*          *          *

I was sprawled on the couch in my boss's office, moaning about Prince's latest threat to haul my ass back into court. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I envisioned piles of legal documents, sleepless nights, five-figure legal fees, bankruptcy.

My boss, who is a friend and has been privy to my post-divorce saga, shook her head and said: "I don't know how you cope with the stress."

"I don't know either," I said. "I don't think I'm doing it very well today."

Sitting next to me on the couch was one of my co-workers. She's an unflappable woman, with endless empathy and a care-taking brand of strictness. She clucked, shaking her head at the news of my latest travails.

"I'll add you to my prayer list. Then all the Prayer Warriors will pray for you." she said. "It's a group of people at my church."

"But how do you know what to pray for?" I asked.

"You know people need help, so you just pray," she  said, with a shrug.

"So, a bunch of Prayer Warriors who don't know me are going to pray for me?"

"Sure!" she said.

"Well, okay," I said. "I need all the prayers I can get. Thank you."

I looked back at my boss, who's about as religious as I am.

"Don't you wish you had that kind of faith?" I asked her.

"Do I ever," she sighed.

*           *           *

I don't know if  the Prayer Warriors have had an effect on my life. Prince is still Prince, although he hasn't -- yet -- made good on his most recent threat to take me to court.

But here's what I do know: I like the idea of people praying for me. It feels like someone's tucking me into bed, or offering me a cup of warm milk -- which in my case would be a glass of Mad Housewife Merlot. What I'm saying is: I like feeling less alone.

How many of us feel alone, after all? How many of us keep heartaches to ourselves because we don't want to burden others, or we feel too embarrassed to ask for help, or our problems just seem unsurmountable?

Glennon Melton, the brain-blogger behind Momastery, has created a kind of turbo-charged prayer circle that is really quite profound. Readers submit stories about people in need, and Glennon harnesses efforts to get her "Monkees" to meet those needs. Together with her followers, she has raised funds for people struggling to pay their medical bills or to buy their kids Christmas gifts.  A recovering alcoholic, bulimic, and "bad love" junkie, Glennon is quite open about her own frailties, and is committed to keeping herself sane and sober by giving back on a grand scale.

I have nowhere near Momastery's following, but I still want to use Perils of Divorced Pauline as a vehicle to help people feel less alone. In the year I've been blogging, many people have contacted me to share their own lousy-divorce sagas and have told me reading my stories has made them feel like someone "gets" them.

Hearing from my readers makes me feel less alone too. It makes me feel that the pain my kids and I have gone through is worth something.

And that is the power of blogging, my friends. It brings strangers together and creates a community. I'm still not sure I believe in God, but I do believe in the power of community.

So I've decided to harness that inherent power in my new "Prayer Box" forum.

*          *          *

"Prayer Box" is a spin on a God Box, in which people write their worries on pieces of paper that they "give over" to a Higher Power when they drop the papers into a designated box.

Think of the Prayer Box in the same way. If you have a problem, a need, or a worry sitting on your head like a squawking vulture, just click here and write a brief description of your problem. You can be anonymous, or you can use your real name.

I will check the Prayer Box daily and pray in my own fashion: not to God, since I'm still on the fence about him or her, but I will send you good thoughts and envision you bathed in healing light.

Here is my only rule: if you ask for prayers, please pray -- in your own way -- for the person below you. If you want to pray for everyone, that's great, but at least send one prayer reply to the person on the thread below you.

Let's spread some good karma, shall we?


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