Prayer Fatigue and the Search for Hope
Some weeks it’s tough to keep up spiritually and emotionally with all that swirls around us. In the last couple of days we’ve seen images of devastation coming out of Oklahoma. We continue to be pummeled with disheartening world news and violence in our communities, even as many of us are still trying to process the Boston Marathon bombings, the explosion at a fertilizer factory in West, Texas, and the collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh.
As people of faith, our first response is prayer. Upon hearing about the latest tragedy or disaster we get down on our knees and pray. Or at least close our eyes for a moment at the next stoplight or post a prayer on Facebook. Sometimes we pray because we know it’s what we’re “supposed” to do; sometimes we pray because we can’t thing of anything else to do; sometimes we pray because it’s part of our ongoing and life-long conversation with God; and sometimes we pray because we know it matters.
Yet it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed to the point of “prayer fatigue.” We’re bombarded on all sides by tragic news, horrific images, and interviews with the bereaved, all of which contribute to an overall feeling of helplessness. As many of us are discovering, there’s only so much capacity the human brain has to respond to grief, sadness, and traumatic events. We could become hermits and spend all our days in prayer and, still, it wouldn’t be enough. We’d just be scratching the surface of the world’s needs. As we seemingly face crisis after crisis it’s easy to feel that prayer doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t change anything.
The 24-hour news cycle doesn’t help as images of natural disaster, war, and abject poverty assault our senses and our sensibilities. Nor does social media which, in the face of tragedy, serves as an echo chamber. That’s not to say we should all go off the grid when tragedy strikes — there’s tremendous value in connecting with others, offering prayers and resources, and even raising money as a way to “do something.” Rapid response online donations in the wake of tragedy (at least the ones that warrant media coverage) are becoming part of the national grieving process and perhaps even a secular form of prayer. But it still never feels like enough — there’s always the next tragedy, the next disaster, the next shooting.
The good news is that the world’s peace and harmony doesn’t depend exclusively upon us. That’s God’s realm, not ours. Once we realize this, it takes the pressure off of us to get the words right or say the proper number of prayers to “fix” everything. We don’t even need words — they’re usually inadequate anyway. We can weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn while leaving the big picture to the God who cares for us as a mother cares for her children. This doesn’t mean that tragedy won’t continue to pervade our lives — it’s part of the human condition — but we’re not in this alone. Jesus, who knew something about tragedy, is with us at every step of the journey.
This weekend we mark Trinity Sunday and revel in the fullness of God even as we pray for hope and healing and reconciliation. There is, perhaps, no better time to do just that.