Don’t pray that!

I got caught for a while in a prayer-trap, and after an online discussion showed me others experienced it too, I figured I’d blog it. It’s the “God As Horror Movie” trap.

It goes like this: Be careful what you pray for, because you may get it.

If you read “The Monkey’s Paw” in grammar school, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the fear that God is going to answer your prayer in exactly the worst way possible. No matter how good your motives, no matter how splendid the cause, if you’re praying for the “wrong” thing, then God is going to give you a smackdown by granting that prayer in such a way that you’ll be sorry you ever prayed for it in the first place.

In this kind of scenario, a financially struggling single mother prays that she’ll find a way to make the rent payment at the end of the week, and then she comes outside to find someone has smashed her car, and the insurance adjustor writes her a check for the amount of the car repair, which happens to be exactly the amount of her rent.

It’s either laughable or horrible, or both, but it’s how I functioned for a while. I found noble ways to escape, of course. “I’m praying for X, but if you think I need something else, feel free to retroactively reassign the pointers.” My favorite was, “Today I’ll let my guardian angel pick my rosary prayer intention.” (I’m sure the angel loved that. But it’s flawless! The angel knows what the world needs and how to ask for it, and then I’m not on the hook for anything bad that results!)

This pattern got pointed out to me several times, and sometimes while praying I’d hear in my head, “Do you think you hedged that enough?” Over time I began to see how insulting that was toward God, how little trust there was in me if I really had to ask myself, “Could I stand for this prayer to be answered in the worst way possible?”

I’d pray for myself just fine. But I always suspected prayers for myself would be answered by God saying, “Oh YEAH? Here, then, have it. Idiot. See what that gets you.”

Come back tomorrow for part II.


  1. Jason Block

    Oooh…a moralistic cliffhanger ­čśŤ I can’t wait.

    1. Jane

      Oops — am I moralizing again?

      1. Jason Block

        No no. I am very interested to hear what happened next.

  2. cricketB

    I usually end prayers like that with, “Thanks for the exercise.”

    Depending on my mood, it’s an exercise in gratefulness, writing, or thinking about what the other person really needs.

    My daughter’s classmate caused the class to be evacuated yesterday (throwing books and grabbing glasses) while 3 teachers tried to corner him. She was very confused when I said she should pray _for_ him. “What would his parents pray for?”

    1. Jane

      I’ve found I’m doing that too lately, praying for not only the victims of an event but also the aggressor. God made that person too, and like you said, as that person’s Creator, what would God want for him or her?

      Some people’s actions are so reprehensible that you have to assume they’ve been damaged terribly by life.