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Refusing to Pray

By November 17, 2017 9 Comments
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As I greeted members of my church following a morning service, a woman came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for the message. She was a visitor who lived in the community a long time ago. After she finished talking about how much she enjoyed the service, she pulled me in close and half whispered, half spoke out loud: “But you didn’t pray for the perpetrator.” I knew this was coming. Not necessarily from her, but I knew someone would say something. So I stood up straight, gathered myself, and said, “That’s right. I didn’t pray for the perpetrator. On purpose.”

Our community has been rocked by a parent’s worst nightmare: an adult misusing their position of authority and trust to abuse kids. A town, a broader community, church communities, have all been turned upside down with the news that for years, right under our noses, kids were being abused. This particular Sunday, I read a statement to the congregation, and then followed with a prayer. I prayed for the parents, I prayed for the kids, I prayed for the teachers and administrators, and I prayed for the community. I didn’t, however, pray for the perpetrator. Intentionally. Didn’t do it. It’s been a few weeks now, and the question keeps coming up: Why didn’t you pray for the perpetrator?

On the surface, it’s because I’m angry. My kid was in his class, he had to fend for himself. Thankfully, my son was not abused, but some of his classmates have suffered immensely, and so have their families. So, I’m pissed, but it’s more than that. For some reason the Christian community is terrible at mourning. We’re terrible at facing pain and suffering. We’re like Job’s friends who feel the need to fill the silence with words. Endless amounts of words. “God’s will” this, and “God’s plan” that. “Hope”, “trust”, “reconciliation”—on and on, as if we’re trying to talk ourselves into something. When my youngest was little there were times when she’d fall and we’d yell over and over “It’s ok… it’s ok” acting happy and upbeat because we didn’t want her to cry. Pretend it doesn’t hurt, and maybe it won’t. There are times in life, however, when we need to shut up. Instead of filling the silence or managing the crisis, we need to sit silently in our ashes. We need to give people the space to be angry and even provide an avenue for them to express their anger. At times it seems like the Christian community feels the need to prove itself; when tragedy strikes we jump to heroic stories about God, forgiveness, and hope in the face of terrible events. Maybe it’s because we’re not sure we believe it, so we need others to say it for us. What if we allowed ourselves to be human? What if we stopped worrying about reputations or protecting our way of life, and instead we sat with Job in silence.

I know what you’re thinking: What a terrible Christian! Oh, what little faith I must have! Maybe you’re right. Or, maybe my faith pushes me back into the dark corners, to sit with those who are lost and suffering. Job’s friends initially had the right idea: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” It’s when they open their mouths that they get in trouble. So if you come to my church you’ll hear me pray, but not for the perpetrator. Not yet, anyway. The time of sitting with those who suffer isn’t over.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

9 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Excellent. I can only presume the back story, but excellent. “At times it seems like the Christian community feels the need to prove itself; when tragedy strikes we jump to heroic stories about God, forgiveness, and hope in the face of terrible events.”

  • Jan says:

    Thank you for this. There truly are times when it’s difficult –or even impossible– to know how or what to pray. Your perspective helps me to think about this.

  • mstair says:

    “So if you come to my church you’ll hear me pray, but not for the perpetrator. Not yet, anyway. ”

    In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will (Romans 8: 26-27).

  • Holly says:

    Thank you. You can’t know what you’re forgiving (or praying for for the perpetrator) if you don’t first spend some time suffering the wrong, which helps us identify the specific wrong and the wrong-doer(s).

  • MechMan says:

    I understand your anger. I am sure that I would be angry also if I were in your position. I hope (and pray) that in time, as your anger subsides, you will be able to pray for the perpetrator just as Christ advocates for you.

  • R Gelwicks says:

    Interesting. Your praying sounds very human, but less than Christian. Wasn’t it the perpetrators that Jesus prayed for, the very ones who crucified him? “Father, forgive them…” Wasn’t it the sick (or the sickos) that Jesus came to heal? Your prayers may be understandable, but not very Christlike.

    • Rae says:

      I think if we never come to a point of forgiveness it’s a problem. But I think it is also a problem to jump right there and bypass the time of grief and the anger that is part of it. We need to mourn and experience the loss/hurt/etc. before it is healthy or reasonable to move on to praying for the perpetrator.

  • Herm says:

    Thank you…thank you.

  • John Suk says:

    Well done. Leaves me thinking that there is all together too much praying going on all the time.

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