Why I Quit Praying: A Brutally Honest Look at Faith After Loss

When I started this journal, it was meant primarily as a means of personal reflection, expression, and therapy. Whether or not anyone ever reads these words or finds value in them, I have found writing extremely therapeutic. It allows me to process my thoughts and feelings in a way I cannot do in spoken words: my emotions solidify best when I write them on paper.

This essay in particular is extremely personal and reflective, more so than anything I have written so far, but it’s one that has been burning inside me nearly from the moment of my Dad’s passing. I’ve decided to write it down, to get it out, because it has been boiling in my thoughts and my soul for months now. If you’re reading these words, I ask for grace, for understanding, and for patience as I work through some of the darkest days of my life.

Let me begin by saying I consider myself a Christian. I grew up in the church, I attended services with my Mom every Sunday, served in various capacities, I was baptized at age eight, I attended youth group, I went to Christian camps, I attended a Christian college, I was the director of our church’s Children’s Ministry, and I currently work at a Christian school.

I know the Bible. I memorized the verses, I know the history and the theology, and I know what it says about grace and mercy. I know what it says about prayer and God’s loving kindness. I know what it says about free will. I know how “Before” me would have responded to what I’m about to write: I would break out the verses and the “God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we want, but he is still good! He works everything together for the good of those who love him! Trust him no matter what!”

Well, that was when I lived in the Before. Now here in the After, it’s a different story.

There are many verses in the Bible about prayer:

  • “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34:15)
  • “Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:12)
  • “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)

On an on, verse after verse, God tells us to call upon him, make our requests known to him and he will answer us. Prayer is powerful – or so I used to believe.

I haven’t prayed in four months.

I’ve never been one to see God as a Genie: a magical wish-granting factory who gives us everything we want. Rarely have I prayed that God do something specific in my life or in the lives of those around me. I’ve followed the standard “not my will, but yours be done. Please just give me peace and help me to do your will” protocol for most of my prayers.

Actually, there has only been one specific, targeted prayer in all my years as a Christian: I’ve never prayed for someone or something as hard, as often, or as fervently as I prayed for my Dad.

Ever since I can remember, my Dad has struggled with issues that have affected his health, both emotionally and physically. The nature of these issues is private and irrelevant at this point, but I knew from an early age that he might not live as long as I hoped he would if he didn’t make some serious life changes. He was a great Dad, a brilliant man, and he was so much fun, but like many of us, he faced down demons that he could not overcome on his own. Had he made changes to his lifestyle, he would likely still be here today.

I spent countless hours literally on my knees, face to the ground, tears streaming down my face as I begged God to save my Dad, to change his proverbial heart, to heal him. Over and over, year after year, I prayed this prayer. Never in my life have I prayed so consistently and so passionately for one person, believing the God was powerful and good, that he would hear my pleas and answer my prayers.

Then, in the blink of an eye, those hopes were dashed. My Dad’s health deteriorated, sickness took over, and he lost his battle. My prayers were not answered. My Dad was gone.

Since then, I’ve really questioned my faith. If I’m honest, I became angry. Not with my Dad or with the doctors or even with myself (though I have been that, too), but with God. Why didn’t he save my Dad? Was he even listening? Did he even care? Was he even there at all?

How can a God who claims to hear our prayers, to be gracious and loving, and to be all powerful also be a God who turns his back on his children? How can a God who claims to hear my prayers allow this ending to my Dad’s story? What good is prayer if, in the end, it does no good at all?

Moreover, I certainly wasn’t the only one praying for my Dad’s healing: my Grandparents, my mother, my aunts, family friends, even acquaintances through our churches prayed diligently for my Dad, but even that didn’t make a difference.

Even now, when I try to pray, the words get stuck. The cynic inside my head has taken over and has clouded my once firm belief. It’s easy these days to find myself steering towards a place of anger and skepticism, a place where prayers aren’t worth wasting the breath it would cost to utter them. “What’s the point?” I think. “If there is a God up there, he could have saved my Dad, but he didn’t. I don’t want to waste my time pretending to be thankful to him for anything.”

I know it’s a cynical, bitter sounding dialogue, but if I’m brutally honest, it’s the dialogue raging through my mind these days.

I wish I could tell you that the end of this entry will be tied up with a pretty little bow and a message of “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!” but that’s not where I’m at in my grief journey. I’m still deep in the midst of doubt, of anger, and of devastation. I am mad at God and in this dark place, I am questioning all that I believed to be true about him and about my faith.

I write this because it feels good to have it out my head and onto paper and because I know I cannot be the only one who has ever experienced such a loss of faith in the face of tragedy. I write this because I want to be honest and open about where this path leads me, and right now it is leading me through some dark valleys. I hope there are brighter days ahead, days where my faith is restored, days where I believe God is good and he hears my cries.

Until then, I wrestle with this question: how can we find our faith once it has been lost?


How Long It Takes to Heal a Broken Heart

Four months. Seventeen weeks. One hundred twenty three days.

That’s how long it has been since I lost my Dad and my world changed forever.

In the beginning, I thought the pain would be infinite. I thought I would never be able to smile again, never be able to laugh again. In the beginning, I was in a fog: unable to think, unable to function, unable to sleep, unable to eat. I woke every morning with his loss on the forefront of my mind. Every moment of the day reminded me of his absence. Every night, I lay awake for hours, sobbing into my pillow.

In the beginning, the grief was so heavy, I was sure it would crush me with its weight. It was by far the worst time in my life.

About three months after I lost my Dad, the fog began to lift. Maybe it was because we finished the Estate Sale, we sold his house, and the stress of that piece of the nightmare was over. Maybe it was the solo hike to my Dad’s favorite lake in Rocky Mountain National Park that brought me peace. Maybe it was just that time passes, and with it our heartache eases just a bit.

It’s been four months today. Yes, I have thought about my Dad dozens of times today, I have cried, I have looked at his picture and held his t-shirt to my face to breathe in his scent. I wear his fingerprint on a necklace every day and when I start to miss him, I reach up and grasp the charm in my hand and close my eyes, fighting back tears.

I still miss him every day, but I am convinced I have hit the darkest point in this journey and have started making my way again to the light. One small step towards Life Without Him: the life I never wanted but somehow knew someday would be. Just one step away from the deafening roar of grief, where I can still hear the noise of loss, but I can also hear the laughter of life somewhere in the distance.

The pain isn’t as punishing as it was in the beginning. At first I felt like anxiety and guilt and heartache were crushing my lungs, making it nearly impossible for me to draw each breath; now I feel like I can finally exhale. The pain is still there, but it’s faded to the background of my heart, allowing joy and laughter to step into the spotlight. I know it’s there – the ache – hiding in the background, rearing its ugly head when joy and laughter end, when I sit in silence, when I feel alone. It’s then I feel the terrible ache, and I imagine it will be that way for a long time.

Perhaps the hardest part now is the loneliness: not just the loneliness of being without a Father, but the loneliness that comes from being stuck in grief. My friends have all moved on with their lives, and who can blame them? I have been in their shoes before: sympathetic for a while, but then life goes back to normal. We assume grief is a short-lived process because we have not been through the grief ourselves. We think there should be a time limit to the grieving. We stop being sympathetic and simply don’t want to talk about it anymore.

I’ve been there when I lived in the “Before.” I’ve shied away from talking about loss with those who were grieving, not wanting to “open wounds.” I’ve avoided people I knew were grieving because I didn’t know what to say. Now here in the “After,” I understand that grieving takes time, and that “not talking about it” feels the same as forgetting. I understand that there really isn’t a right thing to say, but not saying anything at all feels even worse. I’ve learned that what grief really needs is someone to say “hey, let’s talk about it. Cry on my shoulder. Tell me about the good times, the bad times, what you miss and what makes your heart hurt.” Let me tell you: the wounds are already open. They have just barely stopped bleeding. Don’t be afraid of tearing them open; instead, be the one who helps them heal.

In addition to this loss-centered loneliness, my husband has been gone nearly this entire time. He was able to come home on Emergency Leave for two weeks after my Dad passed away, but he returned to his deployed location and has been there ever since. So at night, when the grief feels the heaviest, when everyone else is asleep and I just need a shoulder to cry on, my greatest support system is on the other side of the planet. Grief is a lonely enough journey, but facing it without my greatest partner has been unbearable.

Yes, the pain is easing. Yes, I have started to enjoy life again when once I believed that would never be possible. Yes, the fog has lifted and I can think clearly again. But healing takes time: those who have endured the loss of a loved one may never be whole again, but they certainly won’t be whole within just a few months. A time frame that feels excessive to the outsider is nothing but the blink of an eye to the one traveling through the loss.

How long does is take for a broken heart to heal? Four months, seventeen weeks, one hundred twenty three days: It takes longer than that.