Two of the teens in my Christian Science Sunday School class were crying as we talked about the most recent school shooting, at a high school in Florida. Many in my class said they’d prayed when they saw the news alert on their phone, but still felt helpless, discouraged, and sad.
“What are we supposed to do?” one wondered.
I’ve had her voice echoing in my head ever since that class, and here’s my answer: Keep praying, and know that your prayers are making a difference.
There’s been plenty of criticism of the “thoughts and prayers” approach to dealing with this incredibly pressing issue of high school shootings. And I agree that just tossing off those words, or using them as a way to excuse inaction, isn’t cool at all. I know without a doubt, though, that dedicated prayer, as I’ve learned through my study and practice of Christian Science, does have an impact and leads to concrete change.
So what would make us doubt our prayers, or feel apathetic about consistently tackling this issue through prayer?
Persistence isn’t something we have to muster up to help us get motivated to pray; it motivates us.
Probably the biggest impediment to our persistence is the argument that our prayers must not be “doing anything” because these shootings continue to occur and we aren’t seeing the outward signs of progress or change we’re hoping for. That’s hard. But in many areas of our lives, we go after progress with tenacity—we stick with our efforts—even if we don’t see immediate effects. I’ve seen this drive in myself when it comes to learning a new piece of music. Whether I have to play something ten or fifty or a hundred times to get the outcome I want, I refuse to give up. And my guess is that there’s at least one area of your life where you do the same.
This persistence isn’t a personal characteristic, but a quality of God. As God’s image, we include it, and since we have it to exercise in one part of our lives, we have it to sustain us in all areas of our lives. This divinely-impelled persistence is inexhaustible, because it comes from an infinite source. It’s not something we have to muster up to help us get motivated to pray; it motivates us. And it carries us through the journey, no matter how long it seems to take.
So then there’s the other piece of that concern—about whether our prayers are actually making a difference. How do we know? Can we be sure there’s a healing solution?
Recently, a friend shared with me the idea that approaching a problem with a mentality of “if it can be solved,” results in a very different set of actions, and often a very different outcome, than doing so with a mentality of “how can this be solved?” And what’s so comforting about the approach to prayer that Christian Science gives us is that it’s all about the “how”; there’s no “if” involved when it comes to our capacity to find a healing way forward through understanding God.
It would be daunting if we were simply trying to influence God to fix something very, very wrong with His universe. Thankfully, our starting point for prayer is a completely good God, with a universe that reflects this goodness and is governed by God’s laws of safety, love, and harmony. In my own prayers about the school shootings, I’ve been endeavoring to see that God really is the only power and doesn’t share His power with evil. I’ve been striving to understand more clearly that each individual’s true identity is God-created—meaning it’s designed by Love, governed by Love, and maintained by Love at all times.
Prayer isn’t about just saying these nice words to ourselves, but actually becoming conscious of their truth and persisting with these spiritual facts with such heartfelt commitment that any appearance of evil—any suggestion of danger, inaction, or helplessness—has to fade away. The reality of what God is, and what His creation—including all of us—is, has to come to light, because actually, that’s the only thing that’s really going on. The “change” we end up seeing, which we call progress or healing, is really just the truth of God and His universe made apparent in our lives. It’s here, right now, to be experienced—and this is such a safe and solid foundation for our work.
Prayer is about persisting with the spiritual facts with such heartfelt commitment that any appearance of evil has to fade away.
I’ll be honest that, at times, I’ve faltered in my own prayers on the issue of school shootings, because I’ve gotten caught up in feeling discouraged and numb. But thanks to my Sunday School students and their prayers, questions, and desire for change, I’m taking a hard look at the arguments that would cause me to respond unproductively—and I’m facing them down.
Whatever the answer looks like for American schools—and for you, our loved students in those schools—I’m committed to sticking with my prayers until that answer emerges. Why not expect that to happen sooner rather than later? The impact of our sincere prayers to trust and prove God’s power can’t be underestimated.