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The power of prayers

These past two weeks I made sure that every person of faith within my reach added me to their prayer list, as I faced surgery with Dr. Jeffrey Wayne at Northwestern in Chicago to remove melanoma.

My personal belief system stands on the foundation that intercessory prayers, or prayers given on behalf of others, work. Western medicine agrees with me.

A comprehensive analysis of 17 major studies on the outcome of intercessory prayer was conducted in 2007 by David R. Hodge, an assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Services at Arizona State University. His was the first to pull different studies together, which made a different picture.

There have been previous individual studies, such as the one at Duke University that have shown no results at all. Others have shown great results, but Hodge was the first to put them together like a puzzle and see that the balance tips over toward the effectiveness of prayers.

The most interesting piece of all of this, though, is that there is a clinical study trying to see behind the curtain and take a better look at miracles. Prayer is done on a basis of faith, which is built on what can't be seen, and generally requires us to go first. In other words, ask and you shall receive. But those of us who are doing the asking do so with an open heart. This is where it could get confusing for someone new to the kneeling.

Prayers are meant to be an awareness that some guidance and bigger help is needed, followed by a request for help. Not pleading or begging or an insistence about how it's going to look or when it'll arrive. That last part is where a lot of people get stuck.

Somewhere along the way, prayers came to be seen like fast-food orders. You said what you wanted into the talking box and then drove around to instantaneously get exactly what you ordered. That's often what gets people riled up, because so many prayers seem to go unanswered. Well, it doesn't work that way.

There's one other key ingredient to mix in with prayer, and that's willingness and that may be what's making the difference between a study of prayer that's successful or not.

Willingness means that we ask for help knowing that much may be required and it may not look like what was expected and a lot of change is probably on our horizons. In other words, let go of the outcome, which is the future and do the next right thing in front of you.

That sounds so obvious, but all too often, people pray and then fret about the prayer. In other words, they take it back very shortly after offering it up.

Hand the prayers over and then leave them there. Do that as often as needed in recognition that we're not in charge of the outcome and we're going forward anyway.

In my own case, the blessings have been an enormous outpouring of love, including Nurse Lenora before surgery and MaryAnn in the financial office, both of whom offered up prayers. As I was being wheeled down that hall I could feel all of those people taking time out of their day, again and again, to ask for assistance from something bigger than ourselves, on my behalf.

Dr. Wayne and his team did a great job, and surgery went better than expected with no skin graft and a cane instead of crutches with very little pain afterward. All very good stuff. There are more tests to do and more prayers are going out there on my behalf, for which I am very grateful. Even Nurse Jennifer has answered my long list of questions, which has provided comfort along the way.

So, take time today to offer up gratitude or remorse or whatever has become too big to carry, and do it over and over again if necessary. No need to clean it up so that it might be better received, either. This isn't a contest where you might be seen as lacking. Prayer is one time when it's OK to say whatever is on your heart, and then, let it go to work, unseen in front of you.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com, or visit www.martharandolphcarr.com.