Occasionally I will write something here that reflects or reinforces the observed fact that, as a group, people who practice some kind of spirituality have better health outcomes. The most recent was The Health Benefits of a Prayer Rule. Only because like most things that have to do with science, when an hypothesis (can prayer make a difference?) is examined and the results arrive, we understand it to be something that will, as the case may be, happen beyond random chance. Something that is predictable.
There are many anecdotal reports on the Internet shared by people who've experienced transcendental effects in their lives in addition to social science studies and books giving testimony to this effect.
But these are strange times we're living in. So intense are these so-called post-Christian postmodern times, times in which self-absorbance and self-autonomy prevails and is ingrained that, like other proven recommendations known to return people to whole health, some people will bristle at the notion of being prayed for. Yes, I realize that to the common sense reader this seems paradoxical, but not perhaps to the atheist or the person who intentionally blocks any semblance of the transcendental in their lives. It can get risky and even jeopardize or cast aspersions on the doctor-patient relationship.
Not too long ago I saw a nice lady who happened to be struggling mightily with her emotions, stress at work, and family, and who failed on three different classes of mood medications. She badly needed, but rejected, talk therapy. At one visit when I told her I would put her on my evening prayer list she was taken aback. Patients with whom I've shared this with in the past have expressed gentle gratitude, a response anyone would expect appreciating the other's effort, mythical or voodoo-like as it may be perceived by them, in attempting to help them. Key word here is help.
But depending on one's worldview of life and how it might be best lived, I suppose being prayed for could represent for them acknowledgement of a desperate situation, and not one intended to invoke the Divine aid, the Divine being of course the One who is at the core of all therapeutic victories. The illusion being of course that physicians have a hand in the project.
But so intense was the response by this nice lady that it got my attention, making me think twice in the future with whom I might openly share praying for even knowing that in most cases people are appreciative to hear such. I see a few patients who are Muslim. I know it would be awkward to share such with them since, as a Christian, our perspectives on who/what is the nature of the Supreme Being is not the same and might be interpreted by even a receptive Muslim as praying to a spooky kind of God since Muslims know Christians believe in the Trinity, and they do not.
But the facts, the scientific facts, are that even if a person is not aware of being prayed for that there are observable and beneficial health outcomes for the person who happens to be the object of intercessory prayer. This and similar examples, with extensive footnoted references to scientific studies, are discussed and explained in a book I reference in the above link, by Dr. Larry Dossey, titled Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. If you're inclined, perhaps a Believer, or you're in the healing arts, it's a fascinating read, and will change for the better your understanding of prayer's relationship to health.
It's uplifting to hear people acknowledge the need in their lives for something they believe is bigger than themselves. Because for people who think they're bigger than most everything else, the effect they have on others around them when they let it be known, can strain a friendship, business relationship, or worse, create a perception of self-autonomy that is false or fake. And for these folks it is only proper and fitting that we pray for them.