As a group of teens and I talked about the most recent school shooting, at a high school in Florida, two of them were crying. Many in the group 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.
There’s been plenty of criticism of the “thoughts and prayers” approach to dealing with this incredibly pressing issue of school shootings. And I agree that just repeating those words, even if they come from a well-meaning place, or on the other hand, using those words as a way to excuse inaction, isn’t helping. I’ve seen, though, that dedicated prayer that reaches out to understand God better, and thought that is willing to be changed by that understanding, does have an impact and can lead to concrete change.
It can be tempting to think 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 10 or 50 or 100 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.
Where does this capacity to persist come from? I’ve found it encouraging to think about persistence as more than a personal characteristic, but as a spiritual quality, with God as its inspiring source. Since we have it to exercise in one part of our lives, we have it to sustain us in all areas of our lives. And because God is infinite, this divinely impelled persistence is inexhaustible. It’s not something we have to muster up. It actually spurs us on as we yield to God and let Him inspire our prayers and efforts, no matter how long the journey seems to take.
But how do we know whether our prayers are actually making a difference? Can we be sure there will be 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 I find so comforting about the approach to prayer I’ve learned in my study and practice of Christian Science is that it’s all about the “how.”
It would be daunting if we were trying to influence God to fix something very, very wrong with His creation. But when we start with the idea that we are spiritual, safe, and loved because we are the creation of a completely good God, we see a very different picture. In my own prayers about the school shootings, I’ve been striving to understand more clearly that each individual’s true identity is God-created – meaning it’s designed by divine Love, governed by Love, and maintained by Love at all times.
I’ve seen how powerful this kind of prayer can be. It’s about actually becoming conscious of and persisting with the spiritual facts about God and His creation – including all of us – until God’s ever-present goodness comes to light as reality to us. The “change” we end up seeing, which we call progress or healing, is really the truth of God and each of us made apparent in our lives.
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 that group of teens I talked with – and their prayers, questions, and desire for change – I’m taking a hard look at what would cause me to respond unproductively; and I’m facing it down.
Whatever the answer looks like for American schools – and for our loved students in those schools – I’m committed to sticking with my prayers until that answer emerges. Why shouldn’t we 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.