Prayer has played a central role in my life since childhood, not just for peace of mind but for physical healing as well. I grew up learning and seeing from practical results that prayer is an effective means of healing.
Now, as a parent myself, the many healings that my family and I have had cause me to naturally expect prayer to make a positive difference.
So when I read the results of a recent scientific study done on the effectiveness of prayer, I was surprised. The study, completed several weeks ago, found that prayer for the recovery of patients undergoing heart surgery did not help them, and in some cases, those who knew they were being prayed for actually experienced a higher than average level of complications.
My experience with the effectiveness of prayer in Christian Science has been quite different. It has shown me that God's care and love in times of need are normal, consistent, and always available.
How we pray and to whom we pray, though, are very important. In fact, they were so important to Mary Baker Eddy that she opened the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," with this statement: "The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, - a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love."
My first lesson in Sunday School was that God is Love. At the age of 4, it made complete sense to me that the qualities of Love should be powerful and always available. One of William Wordsworth's poems says,
... trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
The poem implies that we come with our theology intact; we come with the understanding that God is Love and that God is good. Perhaps that is why Jesus said that we have to be like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. This understanding of God as a loving Father and Mother is so natural and normal to us as children.
I remember thinking about God's love when I was 5 years old and sick in bed. I was missing school for the first time and was feeling bad. My mother was caring for me and suggested I pray. I'm sure that she, too, was praying.
I began going over what I knew of God. The idea of God as Love that is everywhere came to me. It was such a powerful thought that it crowded out the discomfort and unhappiness I'd felt stuck in. I remember the sunlight pouring through my bedroom window and thinking it was like God's love - warm and shining, lighting up my room and me and everything.
Shortly after, I realized I was no longer ill. Though I was certainly glad to be rid of my cough and sore throat, what really stood out to me was the unforgettable feeling of being embraced and included in God's kingdom, His goodness. That spiritual sense - that all life belongs to God - stayed with me for some time, and I think of it now as an important signpost on the way to gaining an authentic understanding of theology.
I've learned that what you find if you start from a standpoint of trust and expectation of God's goodness, is always more blessed and blessing than you could have imagined.
The evidence that supports the understanding of God as always there, always good, always loving and helpful, has helped me become less likely to panic in a crisis or to think that prayer depends on my personal goodness, and more inclined to turn to God sooner than later.
Acknowledging God as wholly good brings us nearer to the truth of our position, our status as the children of God. Christian Science points us back to the Scriptural concept of who we are and shows us that we already possess the blessings we seek in prayer.