On Why It’s Hard to Pray for Nepal (But I’m Trying Anyway)

Hard to Pray for Nepal

I was half a world away, in my first year of high school, when the 1989 San Francisco earthquake hit. I remember watching television footage of chunks of the Bay Bridge collapsing on the decks below it, cars skidding like skittles.

I had no idea, then, that twenty five years later I would find myself living in shaking distance of the San Andreas Fault, and every time I drive across one of the long bridges spanning the San Francisco Bay, I wonder “will this be the day? The day of the Big One? Will my car be in the footage of this bridge crumpling into the sea?”

I try not to tell my Mom these things. She worries enough already.

And so it was, on Saturday morning, that I was making my way across one of those long bridges, imagining earthquakes and my imminent demise, when I heard the news of the earthquake which devastated Nepal. 7.9 on the Richter Scale. Over 4000 lives lost already, and tens of thousands more crushed physically, emotionally, and financially: their world literally shaken.

I have friends who have taught me to love Nepal. My sweet friend Katie worked there for some years in a home where children rescued from sex trafficking were being loved into wholeness. We have other friends (whose names I can’t share) working at a missions hospital. I savor their newsletters. I pray for them, hoping in some way to partner with them in the work they are doing there.

I have prayed for Nepal many times, but this week-with my social media flooded with prompts to #PrayForNepal-I’m feeling stuck, and not sure how to pray.

My first instinct is to reach for the soul-notes I learned in the Church of England: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. But there’s something about that prayer that sticks right now: as if God were engaged in twisting the world’s arms behind our backs until we, in our pain, cry “uncle”.

This is the sticking point: the deep feeling that I need to pray, but the deep disquiet I feel that God could have prevented this, could have stopped this. Believing that God is mighty enough to help half way across the world necessarily means I also believe Him mighty enough to have made things go differently.

I just finished reading a treasure of a book: Karen Dabaghian’s newly released Travelogue of the Interior. In it, she chronicles a journey God took her through the Psalms – a year spent marinating in, and learning to pray and write poetry in response to, God in the Psalms. The most arresting part of the book to me was her chapter on lament, which she describes this way:

“Lament… is the act of pouring out in thoughtfully crafted, brutally honest speech all the accusatory, self-serving, pain-drenched thoughts and emotions that fester in the deepest recesses of my soul when God doesn’t come through for me in the way I believe He is supposed to…. Lament is casting our full selves on the fathomless mercy of God, because only His mercy is big enough to bear witness to our bitter accusations and still let us live.”

So, this morning instead of praying for Nepal, I tried lamenting. Asking God WHY he let this happen and WHAT was he thinking and WHERE was he? My fingers skimmed through my bible, finding the passage in Luke 13 where Jesus talks about what conclusions could be drawn from a tragedy in his day when a tower in Siloam fell and killed many, too. I hunted for the verse somewhere which talks about God shaking the earth.

But at some point my fingers stilled and my breathing got slower, and I found myself in 1 John 1:5, and the reminder that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. No hint of caprice, no mean streak, no schadenfreude.

I found no answers to why this all happened, but I felt God gently point out that I’d come to prayer with no small amount of resentment: as if I cared more about those suffering than He does, as if I had purer motives than He, as if I had to try and persuade Him to do good for a change.

Ouch.

Instead of assuming that God is petulant and reluctant to bless, I needed a reminder that God is more than the giver of blessings, He is the Gift himself. And so, once again I’m on my knees asking that He would make it better, but… so much more importantly… that He would MAKE IT COUNT. That His presence would be near. That even though we don’t know the WHY, we know He is WITH.

My prayers feel puny, and my faith is small. Honestly, it felt more useful to send a donation to the missions hospital where my friends serve since I knew the money would at least be of practical help (you can donate too: here).

But I need to pray, too, reminding myself that I cannot outdo God in compassion or mercy. In the wake of this devastation, I know this much is true: He cares.

And so I pray.

18 thoughts on “On Why It’s Hard to Pray for Nepal (But I’m Trying Anyway)

  1. We have an enemy out to kill, steal and destroy. (John 10:10) Out to kill every human being, those beings created in the image of God, Christian or not. Steal everyone’s goods, children, marriages, jobs, health. Destroy everyone’s reputation, faith, roads, bridges, buildings, confidence, peace of mind, hope. The planet was turned over to humans for their habitat and their management. Authority over the destroyer, the murderer from the beginning, the liar who says God did all the evil – the savage, brutal, inhuman rampaging enemy – whose authority is that? Who is to blame when mountains fall?

    • Thinking about what the enemy wants, vs what God wants, in any situation is such a helpful perspective check. It doesn’t tell me always who is responsible for the situation, but it tells me something about God and the enemy’s outcomes, which- in Screwtape Letter style – is so instructive in responding better. Thank you.

  2. My daughter’s flat shook from the quake centered in Nepal, and neighbors gathered outside in order to avoid possible damage/injury from staying indoors. Until the news reports came in there were a lot of rumors about the shaking. She and her team almost cancelled their program set for later that day but decided to go ahead with it. The turnout of local people was lower than it would have been had the quake not struck. The team was glad to have stuck with the schedule, though, because people who did attend needed to gather and talk about what was going on. This type of event scares a lot of people, including those my daughter works with.

  3. I feel the exact same way when praying for Nepal (I also think the exact same thing when driving over a long bridge when I’m home in the Bay… didn’t know others did too!) Thank you, this will help me to pray & lament. Also, your “make it count” post has really and truly helped me to pray in these circumstances when I can’t seem to think or say anything… I know I can pray that little prayer.

  4. I lived near the border of Nepal for three years with my family, and have friends there now. Living in India drove me to my knees over and over, and the Lord spoke to me in much the same way as you describe here:

    “I found no answers to why this all happened, but I felt God gently point out that I’d come to prayer with no small amount of resentment: as if I cared more about those suffering than He does, as if I had purer motives than He, as if I had to try and persuade Him to do good for a change.”

    In short, very bad things happen. We do not know why. We cannot out-love God.

  5. So beautiful. Thank you. I’m grateful a friend shared this on FB and I found my way to your words today. Just what I needed to read and pray.

  6. Yes,,,,”make it count”. I too have been at a loss as to how to pray…except to ask for provision of basics and for HIS name to be made known as only He can do. I have friends whose children and grandchildren are there….I’malso praying for the children and the fears they must be experiencing.

    It has also helped me see a disappointment in my life in perspective. I’m thankful for that!!!

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  8. SO GOOD!! I was just in Nepal in February and I thank God that every one of my friends and their families have been marked safe after the quake. My ‘uncle,’ a minister in Kathmandu and a partner in Native Partners for World Missions, posted this recently to help us know how and what to pray, if anyone is looking for specifics! Here’s what he had to say…

    My Worldwide Christian Friends in Facebook, I bring Greetings to you in Jesus Name!
    My emergency appeal to you is this:
    Kindly spread about the Devastated situation in my country Nepal and raise people who would spere their valued times to pray for us. Let them know these points as they Pray:
    1) The people who are missing maybe found safe! The injured ones may get adequate treatment, and may the Holy Spirit comfort them who have lost their loved ones.
    2) The safety of the rescue-relief workers that they maybe found protected as they serve in hassle, and the relief stuffs may reach to all of genuine needs.
    3) The unnecessary problem may not be raised afterwards, may the Lord cast out any calamities.
    4) The resources be adequately available, let the heart of worldwide Christian brethren be soften and readily help the needy.
    5) The Government be open to Christian aids from overseas, let the bias government officers and media workers realize God’s love through all Christian volunteer services, (let the Christians’ life speak louder than the words of their mouth).
    6) The only eternal Salvation in Jesus Christ be real to everyone and let the Nation of Nepal exalt His name on high by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
    Amen

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