Doctors aren’t god but thank them anyway (or, Where did The Great Physician do his residency?)

Once upon a time, I was the pray-er. Have an ache? I’ll lay hands on you. Have a problem? I’ll remember you to the lord. Have an illness? I’ll pray for you. Have a wayward child, a sick relative, a broken relationship? Give me a name and I’ll lift it up.

I believed there was power in prayer. I believed there was a God, that this God was tuned into what I asked for, and that He was kind of at my beck and call. My life hasn’t been perfect or without tragedy, but I’d say it’s more charmed than average. I attributed that to the “hedge of protection” prayed around me by my parents and family.

Lately I have found myself far, far from that belief. I wasn’t sure what I knew anymore, but I was no longer sure of the power of prayer, of God listening to me, of there even being a God. I knew I was far from the faith I was raised with, the faith I once embraced, the faith I – until very recently – put into fervent practice.

I didn’t realize how far I’d come until this week.

I saw a post on Facebook from a childhood friend of mine. Her husband Sam was in the hospital, not doing well, serious heart issues, life-threatening actually. They had just welcomed their first grandchild into the world, then this.

My mom called me: “Did you hear about Sam?” Yes, yes I did.

“Did you know they Medi-Vac’d him to University Hospital?” No, i didn’t.

“It’s really bad, they’re trying to stabilize him, keep him alive long enough to get a heart transplant. We really need to pray for him! Have you put him on your church prayer list?”

I paused. What could I say that was honest but didn’t sound heartless or blow my cover?

‘Wow, a transplant. This must be so difficult for him and the family. I’m glad he’s at University. it’s a great hospital, I know he’ll get the best of care there. Let me know if you hear anything else. Love you….’

I felt terrible that, because I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t DO anything. Since I’m not a heart surgeon or cardiac nurse, there is nothing I can DO. Praying was at least something I used to know how to DO and DO well. I mean, it isn’t REALLY doing anything, but at least it felt like it. But now… well, I can’t even DO that!

I also felt terrible that I couldn’t be honest with my mom. I mean, I could, but at what price? We were talking about Sam and a life threatening situation involving people we care about. It wasn’t about me. I didn’t need to make it about me.

(My relationship with my mom is fragile at best sometimes. She suffers with PTSD from various tragedies she has endured. She credits her stellar relationship with God as the thing that keeps her strong, keeps her going. I couldn’t – and can’t – sacrifice our relationship and risk triggering a PTSD episode with my own truth. For now, my truth needs to stay silent.)

I keep thinking of when my friend and Sam got married. I was at their wedding. They were young. We were all young. But even in his 20s, Sam had serious heart issues. I remember visiting him in the hospital not long after they were married. He had a serious cardiac event, was on death’s door. I drove two hours to see my friend, to support her, to let her know I cared.

That was 30 years ago. Thirty years that Sam has been living despite having a crap heart. Thirty years that they have stayed married, had kids, worked, built a house, had a grandchild. Thirty years that they have lived and grown and loved. Thirty years that that they have prayed, yes, but also 30 years that they most likely would not have had without major medical intervention.

Every time Sam had an issue, what did they do? They didn’t lock him in a prayer room with a lot of holy people. They didn’t put blessed handkerchiefs on his head, give him communion, sprinkle him with holy water, lay hands on him day after day until he was better and could go home. They didn’t check him into a church until Jesus showed up and fixed his heart.

No. They called EMS. They went to the ER. They consulted his many doctors. They went to the best hospitals they could find. While people were praying outside, inside medical specialists – people who studied biology, learned about science, went through training, were certified, and continually educate themselves – did what they could do to keep his heart going as long as scientifically possible. They have been doing this for 30 years. They have been doing this successfully, apparently, even though they are working with bum equipment. Because after 30 years of crediting prayer for his longevity, HE STILL HAS A CRAP HEART.

I’ve been following my friend on Facebook, lurking really, just to stay abreast of the situation and send positive thoughts her way for whatever good that does. My heart goes out to her. Watching a loved one, a partner, go through such agony and thinking of losing him….that sucks. Many other people care about them. I know, because they continue to leave numerous comments on FB posts, comments like these:

God is Good. Still praying.

Praise the Lord!!!! GOD IS SOOOO GOOD!!!!!

God is on your side!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Still praying and believing!

Thank God! Praying and interceding for you all

Jesus is praying to our Daddy God for you!

Be strong and courageous, the Lord your God will uphold you with his right hand, he neither slumbers or sleeps.

Thank you Lord! None of this is a surprise to Him…He has you in his hand!

Nothing is impossible for God!

The Lord is still in charge!

Our God is amazing!

He is showing His strength in the storm!

Once upon a time, I would probably have left a comment much like this. It’s the language of my people. Thank God. Credit Him with all good things. Always believe. Profess faith even when things go to shit, because that only means you aren’t believing enough. Or maybe you have sin in your life. In which case, you have a bigger problem than a bum heart…..

But now, reading these comments made me angry and brought me face-to-face with the fact of how far I’ve come:

WHERE IS THE THANKS FOR THE DOCTORS AND NURSES AND ANESTHESIOLOGISTS AND THERAPISTS AND PHARMACOLOGISTS THAT HAVE KEPT SAM’S CRAP HEART RUNNING FOR THE PAST 30 FRICKIN’ YEARS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

No where.

Not one person credited anyone but God.

Here’s one HUGE problem I have with that.

I was taught God is perfect. That God doesn’t make no junk. That God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. That God is all powerful. That God can do only good. That when God fixes something, He doesn’t do it halfway. That God doesn’t need puny and weak human assistance to work his miracles. That, regardless of what medicine you take or procedure you receive, all true healing comes from God

If that is true, 1) why does Sam keep going to THE HOSPITAL? and 2) why does Sam STILL have a CRAP HEART after 30 years of “healing”?

The fury I felt reading comment after comment after comment amazed me. I shook my head in disbelief, and in disgust. I posted a comment that I was so glad to hear that Sam was doing better, that he was stable, and that I was thankful he had such amazing doctors and nurses doing good work. It was innocuous and non-confrontational, but honest. I waited for someone to echo my sentiment, to thank SOMEONE other than God.

I’m still waiting. In the meantime, I have definitive proof that doctors do NOT think they are god. God requires exhortation and praise and thanks to provide the simplest of healings. Doctors can provide help often within a few minutes. And it’s a good thing doctors don’t require thanks and praise to do their damn job. Because they sure aren’t getting any from this crowd.

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11 thoughts on “Doctors aren’t god but thank them anyway (or, Where did The Great Physician do his residency?)

  1. The whole, “I am praying for you” thing reminds me of Matthew 6:6. If we do believe prayer we are not really supposed to be making sure others know that we are praying, are we? But, I used to do that as well.

    As for the power of prayer, no I do not believe in it. It all comes back to just one of the world’s atrocities. Why are there starting children in Africa?

    I do believe in sending love and positive energy but just for the fact that when we live love we love more.

    At any rate, I wish more Christians were opening to talking about these hard subjects. We are ridiculed and scorned if we do. We are told we are in sin and have don’t have enough faith. Instead, our faith withers and dies. Nothing made me feel more alone then being made to figure it all out by myself. My heart aches for you as you go through this because I know how lonely and frightening it can be. I do hope you fine peace. It took me a very long time (I still have days) to find a new place in the world.

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  2. “I was taught God is perfect. That God doesn’t make no junk. That God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. That God is all powerful. That God can do only good. That when God fixes something, He doesn’t do it halfway. That God doesn’t need puny and weak human assistance to work his miracles.”

    Oh dear, those words could have come out of my mouth. Which is why when I look at the ruins of my health and my son’s autistic mind, there was so much cognitive dissonance.

    I was also a BIG into prayer. I’m going to warn you that prayer is a really divisive issue…I think it’s probably the most devise issue I’ve come across in deconversion. Half the people (both christians and atheists) will tell you you’re crazy to have ever believed in it, and the other half will tell you you’re crazy not to still believe in it. I was unaware before I deconverted that people had such strong feelings over prayer, but they do…now that you’ve come out with it be prepared you might get some controversy over it. Prayer was one of the primary reasons I deconverted, and thus I took a huge lashing from both sides of the religious fence over it. It surprised me.

    About you mom…is it really necessary you tell her? If you can avoid it, I think you should. I had to tell my mom because I used to do a lot of religious activities with her, but it has hurt her deeply. If there had been any way to avoid it, I would have, and regret there wasn’t.

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    • Ay, I haven’t actually “come out” about not praying. I just don’t do it. When I’m with a group of people and am asked for prayer requests I just say “Thanks, I’m good.” When we have group prayer, I just don’t pray out lout (or silently, but they don’t know that). When I’m in a position where I’m expected to pray, like before leading church music (which I plan to ditch soon), I ask one of the choir members to pray instead of me. I have yet to say, “Hey y’all, I’m being complicit while you pray but in actuality I’m an atheist and think this is a useless waste of time. I’ll sit here and try to fit in just so you won’t ostracize or pity me. Carry on!” You’re right – it is a HUGE deal. I wish it was just live and let live. But not praying…. damn, that is harsh. Even stone cold sinners pray when your husband is in the hospital or your dog gets hit by a car or some plane crashes somewhere. To admit you don’t … well, that would make you a REAL freak, worse than an alcoholic, worse than a pedophile, worse than Hitler maybe. I don’t really care about the angry atheists/dry christians who would look down on me as an ignoramus for ever having believed in prayer. They can think I’m dumb. My Mensa card says otherwise. Not that that means a hill of beans, either. I really enjoy reading stuff by former Christians who have lost their faith but retain their sense of awe, who know what it was like to feel the power of the supernatural (even if it was manufactured), who have seen signs and wonders. And as far as telling my mother… I appreciate what you said. Sometimes I feel duplicitous not telling the people I’m closest to. But you know what my only (so far) convo with my husband was like. If he went apeshit, she’s going to be apoplectic and mourn for me as if I were dead. I seriously think that after everything she has been through in her life, to see me as a stranger, as an apostate, as a lost soul who will be tortured in hell and not spend eternity with her and my dad… I think it would put her in a very, very bad state. God is everything to her. Since my father died, she has gone from a normal woman who had a strong faith to a zealot whose every sentence has something to do with God. It is unhealthy I think, and it makes me dread spending time with her because everything I say and do even now is under a spiritual microscope. I don’t think I could bear the guilt of seeing racking pain in her eyes every time she looked at me. I hate HATe HATE living a duplicitous life. I hate being dishonest. I hate reading books and watching videos and reading/writing posts about deconversion in secret. But I can’t MAKE myself believe any more than I MADE myself stop believing. I hope one day I can throw it all to the wind and be open about it. But right now, I just can’t. Thanks for being so understanding and supportive. ❤

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      • “she’s going to be apoplectic and mourn for me as if I were dead.” That’s how my mom is…constantly begging me not to make her watch me burn. Do you think it would be possible for you to come out (when the time is right) to other people *without* your mom knowing? That might be your best option, but it’s not practical in all situations.

        When I said “out” about prayer, I meant out on the internet. You might get some nasty trolls with this post…maybe not, but just be aware it could happen. Prayer seems to freak people out in ways that are surprising.

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  3. What you are saying really resonates with me on a number of levels. I helped out a Christian friend financially at one stage. He kept thanking God, even at the time I did think that some thanks coming my way would not be inappropriate.

    The really tragic stories are those of parents who have let their die because they believed God would heal them and consequently did not seek medical help that could have made the difference. The only way to make sense of such events is to conclude that ‘God has called their child to heaven’. So to some extent death is easier to explain away than long term suffering.

    I had mentioned to you on Volet’s blog how I was struggling to extract myself from church activities. The struggle continues! I was sitting through two church services today thinking ‘how can I get out of this, it is getting unbearable’. Then after church a person wanted to talk to me about science and religion (this person was not a crazy – but a sincere and knowledgeable person who supports the compromise theories of people like John Lennox and Francis Collins), As tried to engage in the discussion in a non committal way, it became very clear to me that my thinking had changed so much in just a short period of time. Especially as it was me who had helped this person see ways to reconcile the Bible and modern science. Such discussions just confirm how I have already moved on in my mind.

    Like you I don’t know how to go back. It would indeed take a miracle, if indeed God is there.

    Like Violet I would hesitate to tell your mother of your change of heart. Many of us are facing similar issues.

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    • Thanks, Peter. I enjoy reading your comments here and elsewhere… it sounds like we are on parallel journeys not of our own choosing. I appreciate hearing your input based on your own experience. That’s one great thing about the online community – we can connect with people like us who aren’t in our immediate community and who we might never have the opportunity to know otherwise. And, in cases like ours and Vi’s and so many others, we can have companionship and perspective of others while we traverse a foreign, scary landscape. Do you blog? I would love to read it if you do.

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      • It is often distressing for me to read my own comments after I post them, as suddenly all the typo’s I missed in my original re-read stand out. There has to be a lesson there of some sort. Perhaps it is an aspect of the confirmation bias, where we see what we think should be there rather than what we we actually wrote.

        I was looking at another blog recently where the person was commenting on confirmation bias, a well known aspect of human psychology. That is, we tend to look for evidence to support what we want to believe.

        From my own experience I know this can work both for and against faith. In fact it is my recognition that my own confirmation bias has now shifted to seek out information that is anti-faith that shows me that my heart has changed.

        I don’t have my own blog. At present I have no plans to change that. I get a bit daunted by some of the excellent bloggers I come across. I soon realised there are a lot of people in the world who are lot smarter, more creative and more rational than me. So I think I might just continue to contribute from the sidelines. Especially whilst I am still in the closet, faith wise.

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        • “Confirmation bias” – yes, I see it both ways. I used to drill into everything to find parallels and illustrations for the faith I used to have. And I was good at it. The hard part is reconciling the number of intelligent people and the copious amounts of literature that confirms the faith I used to have, with the fact that I no longer believe any of it. I know these people aren’t stupid. Because I wasn’t. How do they – how did I – manage to spend so much energy and thought and time writing about a non-existent topic? (PS, don’t worry about typos, I do the exact same thing! I try to turn off my grammar-nazi persona when it comes to blogs!)

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  4. Vi, ah, I see what you meant about “out” now. Even an anonymous blog is a blog! I don’t have many connections, so I doubt I will get much trolling, LOL. But if I do… well, I’ll engage it then for what it’s worth. (And if they get really mean I know I can count on you and a few of your cronies to be more reasonable) As for my mom, she isn’t on Facebook but the rest of my family and family friends are. When I visit her, she tells me “so and so said they saw blah blah on your page” and sometimes asks why I can’t write about more proper and uplifting topics 🙂 If I were to remove the veil, to be honest on my real blog and my real FB page, it would get back to her very, very quickly. I don’t think I would be an atheist disciple or anything…. then again, I had a VERY hard time sitting in church yesterday listening to a lesson on the betrayal and crucifixion and all the exegesis about it. I find myself moving from the stage of “religion is a personal issue” to “religion is harmful”. I’m an open-book kind of girl in my personal life. I wonder how much longer I will be able to internalize this conflict without it spilling out. I think it may not be long at all….

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  5. Great post! I find myself thinking the exact same thing when people ask for prayers for their loved one. I mean if you think prayer works, shouldn’t we pray for the doctor to have a steady hand during surgery. Pray for no distractions. Pray you get a surgeon who finished near the top of the class instead of near the bottom…I don’t know. But modern medical science is a pretty big reason why prayer isn’t the only thing at your disposal to save the life of a loved one. I pretty much just say “thoughts” instead of prayers, and I also say something about the doctor’s and nurses and hope for a speedy recovery, that kind of thing.

    From the Devils Dictionary by Ambrose Pierce “Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.”

    I never understand why people thank God for a new job, when most likely they were the most qualified candidate for the job, interviewed well, and deserved it. Prayer on the whole really does seem selfish, even if you are doing for someone else, because you really are asking the universe to bend to your will, because you are somehow more important than anybody else in needing your prayers answered. Such a philosophy seems harmless, but then when tragic things happen to you, you start to think that it’s your fault. You’ve been sinning too much, you aren’t following God properly, or you’re God is punishing you. What a horrible thing to have to go through. I prefer to think of the universe as indifferent and without intention. This means that no supernatural being has it in for any of us, and we have more control over the situation and are more motivated to do something about it! 🙂

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    • I appreciate your perspective. I always prayed for the doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, etc because it made sense to me. When things went well, I felt like I did something right and somehow had power over the situation. When they didn’t end well, I felt I did something wrong (not enough faith, too much sin, didn’t ask the right thing, etc) and totally powerless (maybe god was trying to send me a message through someone else’s suffering?). I always had a hard time reconciling “nothing is too big for god, he knows what we need, he’s just waiting for us to ask him” and “his ways and thoughts are above ours, he has a plan, it’s for our good.” I was taught to claim Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”) and Romans 8:28 (“All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”). But….what made me so special? What about all the crap that happened in the world? Why was it ok to say “there but for the grace of god go I” when we saw someone in a bad situation, but it was NOT ok to ask “hey, wait a sec, why the hell don’t they get grace, too?!?” It is selfish, it is not loving, and it is insular to assume I’m special b/c I was born in the right place and indoctrinated in the right religion, too bad for those who weren’t. And it makes me crazy when people substitute “the universe” for god/religion. I just want to say, hello, the universe don’t care jack shit about you! Caring about people is a job for other people. And that is the major component of who I am that I do not want to lose. Meeting people like you who aim to help and inspire rather than insult and tear down lets me know that by saying goodbye to myth doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the goodness of being human.

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