I inherited my inability to wait patiently from my father. He would (and did) drive thousands of miles to collect me and/or my sibling from various places/schools/homes/malls/jobs/ when we were younger without a moment's hesitation. And happily at that. But heaven forbid we make him wait one minute beyond that four hour drive - or five minute drive. He wasn't the least bit bothered by the length of time it took to reach his child, only the time spent waiting for her once he arrived.
And yeah, I'm kind of like that. Minus the kids waiting to be picked up, of course.
So after Mass I always sit in the pew and wait until the hoards file out of the church and start to vacate the parking lot, because my hackles rise almost instantly when I'm faced with the prospect of a waiting in my car. And then sitting in stop and go traffic until I can turn onto the main road home.
Sometimes I sit in my pew and watch the little groups chatting after Mass. Other times I kneel with my eyes closed in what would appear to be prayer, but usually actually isn't. I have trouble concentrating on prayer when people are moving and chatting around me. I'm entirely too nosy for after Mass prayer.
Why I bother making it look as though I'm praying is beyond me. Maybe I'm secretly hoping that God won't notice I'm planning the week's meals in my head. Maybe I'm hoping he'll just take a quick glance at my exceptional praying form (head bowed, eyes closed) and give me a gold star that I can redeem later in life.
I could use a gold star. He owes me.
Which brings me to the point of all this.
Last Sunday whilst I was kneeling in what no one would ever suspect wasn't prayer, I happened to look up and see an extremely pregnant woman standing at the foot of the altar staring up at the depiction of Jesus and his disciples. She was deep in thought (or maybe prayer, who am I to judge?) and was patting her belly very deliberately, as though punctuating whatever words were running through her mind with each little pat.
I froze in horror. And in my mind I screamed, "No, no, no - it won't make any difference! What will be, will be no matter how fervent those prayers are - no matter how hard you plead!"
And that seems like an awful reaction.
But I still think it's true. God help me, I do.
I admit that sometimes I still whisper quiet, tentative prayers for people who I think need them. I have asked God to cure. To save. Even since Thomas, I have uttered those words. Even when I know how utterly and completely they failed when I prayed them nearly five years ago.
And that's why I'm not sure they make any difference at all, those frantic, pleading kind of prayers.
Because, if you've noticed, people still die no matter how many people are busily begging for a different outcome. Because that's when they were supposed to die. Period.
I believe in God. I believe in miracles. I believe in the power of prayer - but only in so much as it can bring comfort to the helpless who have no other recourse but to beg, so that they feel they've done something. Anything.
I just don't believe in that kind of prayer anymore. There are other kinds, of course. Prayers of gratitude? Those are fine. Prayers for guidance and clarity? Also fine. But prayers to save the lives of others? I don't think anyone here has that kind of power, no matter how fervent the words, or how many of us are saying them.
I don't see this as a weakness or some little chink in my armor of faith. I see this as a realistic way to proceed from this point on. To ask God to save someone when it's their time to die only sets me up for the kind of confusion, feelings of betrayal and all-consuming anger I felt when Thomas died.
I hope the woman at Mass has a healthy child. But I can't pray for that because it's already decided.
No matter what I want. It's already decided.