One of the main topics of discussion in my life currently is adoption. Everyone asks us where we are in the process. As we meet with real estate agents looking for a bigger house, the agent always asks if we have kids. My husband and I are reading parenting books on the subject. I also talk on the phone with my mother three or four times a week (we are talkers) and it is a source of conversation there too.
The past few weeks I have been watching as a former co-worker's adoption placement has burned and failed. This is their second failed placement. In adoption circles they call this disruption. Now whether I agree with their methods or even whether I think they are doing the right thing is irrelevant to the prayer conversation my mother and I had over it. Basically, my mother went on a ten minute lecture concerning prayer. Her nuggets of wisdom included the following, not exactly verbatim, but definitely accurate phraseology:
"You have to pray a lot because otherwise your adoption placement will fail."
"You would be amazed at how prayer can change things so quickly in kids like this."
"I know prayer doesn't erase the past, but God can erase the hurt."
"I wouldn't have made it through you guys growing up if I hadn't prayed."
"Some days I just prayed I wouldn't kill you, and it worked!"
So let's dissect these things shall we. The first is an absurd illogical notion. If you don't pray your adoption placement will fail? 97% of adoptions are successful. Not all of the parents who adopt are Christians. Some are agnostic, some atheist, many are from varying denominations with different views on prayer and as hard as it is for Christians to believe, some are even people of other faiths who pray to other Gods. It would not be incorrect to assume that there are many successful adoptions in which not a single prayer was prayed. But wait, the Christians will cry, even if the parents weren't praying, someone out there was. Now, I will get into this further with the next paragraph, but suffice to say, intercessory prayer from afar has been shown to not only NOT work, but also to have more negative results. The idea that prayer is the only reason why something can be a success is insane. Bill Gates is a non-theist and has had great amounts of success. Personally, I haven't prayed (not in the way my mother is suggesting) in years and yet my life has gotten better since I stopped. If the amount of time spent praying equals success then there are a lot of people out there that should not be successful and millions more who should be. And there should be a lot more failed adoptions.
The second idea, that prayer will somehow fix these kids in a short amount of time is troubling. Numerous studies have been done throughout the years concerning prayer and tough situations such as illness and family struggles. At best, prayer seems to work as a calming placebo effect although only if the one being prayed for is actually aware of it and believes in the power of prayer. However, a study done by the Harvard Medical School showed that intercessory prayer done from afar without the recipient's knowledge not only has no effect, but patients actually fared worse. Even more troubling is the notion that if there is a God, we humans have the power to intervene in the workings of the world. If we just pray the right way to the right God we will tip the scales in our favor and he will work that illusive miracle. In this case the miracle would be to get over the psychological scars after years of extreme neglect and/or abuse, institutionalization, medication, foster care, and broken promises in a very short amount of time in order for that child to blend into your family. Frankly, I would be worried if this happened as I would think the child may be hiding those things from me in an effort to be "perfect". Or perhaps they aren't dealing with these issues in the way they need to, burying feelings rather than dealing with them. I don't want my kid to magically get better, I want my kid to slowly learn to do deal with their past and still move forward. I would also state that having this expectation, that prayer equals a quick fix, is more likely to cause a disrupted adoption since the expectation is unrealistic to the circumstances.
Of course, I said as much to my mother who quickly jumped to the fact that of course the past can't be erased, but somehow God can erase the hurt. This is of course based off the assumption that whenever somehow overcomes something difficult they only did it because God worked some kind of miracle in their life. Remember, we are not talking about a physical problem here. We aren't talking about how someone in their church gave the $50 or how they somehow got groceries for an extra week. This is about the deep psychological hurt that was caused when a mother, who should have loved her child, sat in the room as her boyfriend burned her child with cigarettes. We are talking about a child whose mother may have actively been a part of prostituting their child at a young age. We are talking about a parent who may have starved your younger brother to death and you couldn't do anything to save them because you were so frightened. We are talking about a father sexually abusing his 1 1/2 year old baby with a broom handle to the point that she won't ever be able to have children. You want to know what I think helps heal those wounds? Therapists, doctors, foster parents, caring family members who didn't know what was going on, patience, understanding guidance, realistic expectations, love tempered by logic, sustained support. Those scars will follow them for the rest of their lives. They will be fifty years old and their past will continue to haunt them. I don't believe for one second that if you just pray the right way those kid's hurt will be erased. Nor should it. That hurt has made them who they are, for good or bad, it is a part of them and needs to made into something constructive by the people who love them.
And now for my mother's assertion that without prayer she would not have made it through. This is true. My mother was a young mother with some serious anger issues. In my home, yelling, fighting, and hitting were normal. Expected even. One of my mother's favorite statements was "God will never give you more than you can handle." She had to believe this because truth was, she had been given more than she could handle. I challenged her on this notion when I was an adult and her comment was, "God does give you more than you can handle so that you have to rely on him." I love my mother, but the truth is she was verbally and physically abusive. Her spankings were always done out of anger and sometimes they were excessive. One particular incident my mother chased me around the house and then outside all the while counting up the number of times I was going to be spanked. 11. 12. 13. Eventually I ran to a tree and tried to climb. My mother yanked me out of the tree, but instead of falling my foot got caught in the tree limb. She continued to yank until I tumbled to the ground with a very hurt ankle. "You're not hurt," she snarled at me before marching inside. "Come inside when you're ready for your spankings." Meanwhile, I am sitting on the ground crying and trying to assess whether my ankle was just sprained or broken. There was skin missing, there was already some bruising, and it was bleeding from the tree scraping it. I sat out there for an hour until my dad came home. Not once did my mom come and check on me. My dad had to carry me inside and put ice on it and to say that he was livid about the situation would be an understatement. As much as I am loathe to admit it, because I know my mother loves me, she was abusive. At one point my dad finally said that they needed to take some parenting classes. I have always been a bit jealous of my brothers because, being much younger, they benefited greatly from my parents' new parenting skills in a way I never did.
Was it prayer that enabled my mother to make it through a day without killing one of us, or was it the fact that she took a few minutes out of her day to quietly meditate and escape the insanity? Scientific evidence would point to the second option. Ultimately, what led to her being a better mother were parenting classes, a husband who became more aware of her needs in the home, and age.
I know Christians want prayer to work. The Bible says it works. Everyone has heard that story from a friend of a friend about something miraculous happening. It is so easy to chalk up ordinary events to God answering prayer. $5 in my pocket must mean that God knew you needed $5 and magically put it in your pocket. The answer can't be that you left it there last week. They believe that prayer keeps them in tune with God, but I reject the notion that something should fail because someone didn't pray enough. This is like a twisted faith healing theology. You didn't get healed? When you must not have had enough faith. Come back next week when your faith quotient is higher and maybe God will be gracious enough to grant you healing. Your adoption is failing. You must not be praying enough. Come back next week when you have spent a few hours in prayer and maybe things will magically get better.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.