Everyone worships something — money, looks, celebrity; on occasion, a higher being. Which is why most everyone has, at some point and in one form or another, prayed. But who’s to say whether a prayer in a church, synagogue or any other house of worship is more or less likely to be heard than a prayer on a soccer field, in a classroom or even while sitting on the toilet? Whether you’re a theist, pantheist, agnostic or even an atheist, your belief or investment in a prayer usually has more to do with you than it has to do with who you’re praying to, or what you’re praying for. At least that’s what we found out when we asked a few of our friends about the last time they prayed.
There are no atheists in foxholes, and there are certainly none in the assigned seat of whichever airline’s plane I happen to be on. I hate flying, and even three whiskeys and a Klonopin deep, the slightest hint of turbulence will have me begging the sweet Lord above to spare me the fate of my incinerated, debris-battered limbs being strewn across a three-mile radius, my smoldering, headless torso still strapped into that uncomfortable bastard of a chair. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask
I was five years old the last time I really prayed. I closed my eyes and asked the big man upstairs for the strength to tackle the tallest set of monkey bars I’d ever seen. I was at a 10-year-old’s birthday party, and being young undersized and a bit myopic, I thought the best way to impress the older girls was to show them that I, too, could do as the older boys were doing. Unfortunately, by the third bar, I was quickly losing my grip, and as I swung to grab the next one I fell to my figurative death, breaking my arm to the sound of laughter. After that, I stuck to smaller asks like, “Please, God, let me find my one true love.”
The last time I prayed was a few days ago. I’m not religious. That is to say, I never go to a place of worship, nor do I recite some particular verse or passage from a holy text. Nope. I just tell G-d I want (or don’t want) something, and demand it be given. Sometimes it actually works. Most of the time it doesn’t. And yet, in those instances when my prayers are “answered,” I feel closer to God. I’m a sucker for omnipotence when it works in my favor.
If I do pray and I pray for myself, I feel like I have to pray for other people because I find it selfish to pray for myself. But even that is probably selfish because I’m sure in the deepest depths of my psyche, I’m actually praying for others as a salve for my selfishness. The last time I prayed for someone else was when a friend of mine who’d been unemployed for months and thus had fallen into an existential stupor. He had finally landed an interview for the job of his dreams. When he told me I let him know that I’d pray for him, so that’s what I did. I prayed for him and I guess in some form I prayed for us. Because I wanted my friend to be happy and perhaps I sensed that his happiness would flood toward me.
The last time I prayed I was in high school and it was for this big math test. At the time, my test scores were not corresponding to how well I thought I knew the material. I studied constantly for my math tests, but my test scores weren’t improving. That year, I had one more test before the end of the quarter, and I needed to get at least a B to keep my B average in the class. Now studying has always been a part of my regimen, but I thought why not seek help from a higher power, so I decided to pray to God in order to clarify my reasons. Praying is praying, and there are no signs we receive after praying, but this time seemed to be a bit different. It gave me the confidence to take the test the next day. I ended up getting a C+ and I ended up having to take the class again the following year.
I recently found out a dear friend of mine’s father might have cancer. His dad was getting a biopsy, but the doctors already predicted it was cancer of some kind. I hoped that he wouldn’t have cancer. It turned out he had cancer of the lung, and would only have a year left to live. My hope now is that he doesn’t suffer and is able to enjoy his last year with his family as much as possible. And that my friend is able to deal with this situation with as little suffering as possible. It’s not quite prayer, not to a God or a person, but it is a hope—they’re pretty much the same if you think about it.