Praying with Others

Elizabeth Johnston Taylor, PhD

Person's preferences for prayer will reflect their personalities. To illustrate, introverts may prefer being alone to pray, and their prayers will reflect their capacity for introspection. In contrast, extroverts' prayers may revolve around their relationships with others and be expressed in creative, verbal ways. Similarly, a prayer of a "feeling" type of person may be emotion-filled, whereas the prayer of a "thinking" type individual may be based upon ideas and logic. Structure prayer interventions accordingly.

Encourage patients to think (privately or with you) about what prayer means to them. You might offer questions like: Why do you pray? What do you expect from your praying? Are these expectations appropriate? How content are you with your prayer experiences? Is there a yearning for something more in your prayer experience?

Facilitate patients' prayer practices. This may mean scheduling time for them when they will be undisturbed, palliating distressing symptoms that interfere with their praying, or helping them with articles that accompany their prayers (e.g., rosaries, prayer garments, books of prayers).

One form of prayer that is particularly appropriate for someone in acute or severe pain is a centering prayer that is similar to a mantra. e.g. “Help me, Jesus.” Nurses can discuss with care recipients what prayer would benefit them most and encourage them to use it while alone. These prayers should be very brief--only a few words. These prayers might be most beneficial when they are framed in a positive sense. To illustrate, "Jesus loves me" or "The Lord has mercy" rather than "Love me Jesus" or "Lord have mercy on me."

When assessing whether or not a patient would like you to pray, ask to pray in a way that allows both of you to feel comfortable if the answer is no. e.g. “Some people tell me prayer helps them to cope with rough times like this. Would you feel comfortable if I prayed with you?”

Assess how the patient approaches the addressee of prayer. For example, a Baptist may pray, “Dear Jesus” whereas a Jew does not believe Jesus is divine. This assessment can usually be made while listening to a patient talk about religious beliefs.

Before praying, assess for what they would like for you to pray. Listen carefully. The answer likely will provide greater insight into their fears and concerns.

Personalize the prayer. Present your patient's name and personal concerns to the Divine.

Lucas suggested that "prayer can take the form of listening for what individuals would have said if they were in touch with their real feelings and needs."

Pray without preaching or pushing your agenda; as Hover reminds, “you'll be responding to another person's religious requirements, not your own."

Prayer can be used to summarize a conversation. This lets the patient know you have heard them. It may also help patients to view their circumstances more objectively.

Prayer may be the springboard to further discussion or catharsis. Avoid running away after a prayer.

Dr. Arment suggests one should follow a prayer with nonverbal communication (such as eye contact or touch) to convey "see, I am me, a person; and you are you; we have returned from our brief journey inward."

Remember some patients would like to pray aloud with you, just as you may with them. This can be a beautiful experience that nurtures both the patient and nurse. It allows the patient to reciprocate caring.

Recognize one difference between magic and prayer. Magic involves invoking a greater power for personal gain. Prayer allows the greater power to do the greater good. (e.g., “Thy will be done”).

Praying with a patient may not involve verbalization. You may feel it will be more comfortable or appropriate if you remain quiet and fully present--praying silently.

Portions of this article were subsequently published

Burke, C., ed., 1998. Psychosocial dimensions of oncology nursing care. Figure 3, pp 66-67.

Used with permission