Faith / prayer / spinal-cord injury

AWP: prayer, the elephant in the room

I am struggling to stay “up” today. As I entered my seventh day since discovering my seemingly insignificant mark, I was hoping for enough improvement to allow me to travel home for a weekend away. When I woke, however, the nurse discovered another pressure mark, this time on the other butt cheek. How this happens when I’ve spent the week in bed I just don’t know. So much for a weekend at home with my family. Instead i will lie in bed, on my side with my bum in the air, rolled two hourly, in an effort to relieve pressure. It’s hard not to complain, but I shouldn’t. As I think I’ve said before, many of my fellow patients have spent much longer in bed and I’m sure I’ll get through this soon. Before you know it, I will be up and about, terrorising the world with my wheelchair.

At least this week I’ve been able to spend a couple of days with my wife (thanks to the ongoing support of our families). Yesterday,  before bed, my wife and I prayed together. As she asked for healing of my bum (and for the sale of our house and various other things), I couldn’t help think of the elephant in the room. Was there any point in praying for the healing of an insignificant mark on my bum when the bigger problem – the very cause of that mark – had being prayed for by people from around the world yet, as far as I could see, without obvious answer? Of course, I may be being ungrateful at this point. After all, things could be much worse and indeed they have been. I have movement now that was unimaginable in my early months of hospital. But if I’m honest with you, the improvement I have experienced can be explained without prayer. In fact, if prayer had been effective, then it seems pretty mean spirited of God to do such an incomplete job of it.

Of course, the theologian in me could give you various reasons why I should keep on praying. We should never presume prayer is about twisting God’s arm but, rather, it’s about what it does in those of us who pray. Further, it is also true that just because our prayer has not yet been answered, that doesn’t mean it never will be (although six months does leave me asking, how long oh Lord). perhaps also our prayer has been answered, just not in the way we had expected (although I’m not sure what that means).

Now it may be that six months out of teaching theology has fried my brain so that the more profound answer as to why God does not seem to have answered my prayers has been lost – and perhaps it will return when my intelligence kicks in again (something I  hope might happen when I stop taking so many drugs). But for now, given that I’m forced to use this mushy brain, I just cannot think of a response that is adequate. What is the point of my praying? The answer may be, none at all. Yet I think my wife and I will keep praying, however tentatively and uncertainly. We don’t really have any other choice. We pray because we have to. We cry out, even feeling like we are shouting into the wind, because we have no alternative. God help us. We need you.

Perhaps we are experiencing a glimpse into the struggles of Jesus when he cried, “my God my God why have you forsaken me” (Mark15:34). here Jesus prays in the face of unanswered prayer – father, take this cup from me. It seems wrong to think of Jesus struggling with faith and maybe that is not what is going on in that text (David Parker,what do you think?). But I like to think that Jesus is with me even in my doubts. The paradoxical idea that Jesus is close to me, especially when I feel abandoned by God.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • michael jensen
    April 1, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Amen, bro, amen.

  • Tore Lunde
    April 2, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Shane, well written about honest thoughts. In my experience faith and doubt goes hand in hand, and at times hope and despair can take you on an emotional roller coaster that goes to quick for any brain to follow. Understanding your thinking (or at least believing I understand it) I just wanted to remind you of a “small” thing: You are a Champ! One incredible Champ! Stay strong friend.

  • Craig Benno
    April 2, 2011 at 12:35 am

    There are times we can only whisper – barely hoping we are heard – only because we have no other choice. I hear you brother. As Michael said. Amen.

  • Lauren
    April 3, 2011 at 9:29 am


  • Ella Carter
    April 4, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Love to read your posts. Thanks for sharing your life with the rest of us. In regards to prayer and twisting God’s arm, your comment “it’s about what it does in those of us who pray”, really made my day! Will continue the walk of prayer. I hope you will be terrorizing the world soon without your wheelchair!

  • Lee-Anne Bryant
    April 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    It really is the elephant in the room, I can relate. Particularly in Pentecostal circles. Someone once said to me that Paul had a thorn in his side and I have a thorn under my bum. Still… 23 years leaves me wondering too.  Sometimes it’s a great blessing; it presents unique opportunities. Other times it’s a source of massive frustration, as you’d know.

    In any case… Carpe diem. Get out there and terrorise. It’s fun.

    You’ll leave many Christians baffled. This is especially fun (I can move my legs; so when people start yelling and grabbing and casting who-knows-what demon of lameness and whatever out of me I take great joy in extending my feet and wiggling my toes in gratitude before threatening litigation and a kickbox to the head). 

  • Craig Benno
    April 5, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    @ Lee – Anne; your comment is priceless.
    I was dragged around a church car-park one night with my right leg trailing behind me, dead as a door nail for an hour or so. It used to go dead like that time to time between a few seconds to a few hours.

    Of course when it started to work again (as it would) – there was whooping and hollaring “praise you Jesus!”

    The interesting thing about that night; it was the men’s group. We were told as men we needed to take our masks off and tell it as it really is. My leg froze up – I dragged myself to the car and sat there waiting for it to ‘unfreeze’. The elders / group organisers came out and asked me to move the car so they could lock up… I said I couldn’t…but would shut the gate later, when the leg unfroze.

    I then broke down in frustration – and yes I swore and cried. Only to be told to shut up, stop sinning and feeling pity for myself and to at least act like a christian. They then dragged me around praying and prophesying over me… the best prophesy I was given was… Scripture says Paul says you have to run the race…. so you need to throw away your walking stick and start running

    Needless to say: I left that church!

  • leeannio
    April 6, 2011 at 6:17 am


    I can relate… I visited a smallish church once and the pastor asked if he could pray for me. I said sure, why not? Ensue fifteen+ people surrounding me, casting things out of me, telling me to repent and be healed. Two of the ladies and one of the guys literally picked me up by the arms and made me stand, I had bruised biceps for three weeks and strained back muscles from being stretched standing straight with scoliosis. It went on for around fifteen minutes, and every time I yelled at them to let go of me they yelled back at my ‘demon’ to shut up.

    After this adventure they gave me a copy of Jonie Erickson-Tada’s book – Totally contradicting themselves.

    So I never visited again.

    I’m really nervous around conferences, prophetic stuff etc now because I really don’t want that to be repeated. I hate being made a fuss of at the best of times, and crazies just seem to enter their element when they see me coming.

    Ahh, adventures in Christendom.

    • Shane Clifton
      April 6, 2011 at 7:54 am

      Lee-anne, thanks for sharing your experiences. I have not really had the same happen, but you prompted me to write a blog post in response.

  • Coral Edwards
    April 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I’ve been reading a couple of your blogs on prayer etc and felt compelled to share a few thoughts of my own. Years ago I read a chinese proverb that stated “The rain falls on the just and un-just, but more on the just as the un-just stole the just’s umbrella”… For me that captures a little of how I view God and prayer. My God is loving, gracious, merciful and caring. He is a Healer, a Provider and the Creator… And part of His creating involved giving us free will – what a tough choice for a Creator – giving your creation the choice to love you or not to love you. But to me it speaks volumes about the Father heart of God – He wants us to run to Him like a child runs to their father – with trust and the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally! For Him to force that relationship would have made us like robots, incapable of true love and adoration.
    However with free will came the option for sin – separation from God. And we as humans have been paying the price for that ever since Adam & Eve disobeyed God.. Their sin allowed evil into the world and that evil is not confined to those who are not in relationship with God – bad stuff happens to everyone, you, me, the guy next door…
    How does this relate to prayer you ask? Well for me prayer is personal. It is my way of communicating with my Father God… And like that Sunday School lesson of old – he answers prayer in three ways: Green light – Yes, Red light – No and Amber light – wait/not yet! So when I pray for my quadriplegic brother to walk again, for my hurting friend who has suffered another miscarriage to have a healthy baby, for the millions of other issues I see in my world.. I pray knowing He hears and that He answers. The thing is the answers He chooses to give do not always line up with what I want. But I know my God sees the whole picture – He knows the plans of the world, He knows the purpose He has for each situation… SO when He doesn’t answer the way I want I know I may not be happy, I may not like it but I trust that ultimately His ways are higher than my ways, His plans are for all things to work together for good – even when I can not see that outcome.
    I have seen plenty of answers to big and small requests – some trivial, some massive, to know with certainty that my God listens and answers prayer!
    It’s like the complexity of pain and pleasure, without one we can not appreciate the other. If we didn’t experience pain, we wouldn’t comprehend the greatness of pleasure. Without sin and evil in the world we would have no need of God, we would not be able to fathom His goodness..
    And so I continue to pray, thanking God for the answers I see that are what I asked for, and continuing to believe that He will answer the others in His time and according to His greater will.. And also praying that God will use the ‘bad’ situations in my life to allow me insight into the suffering of others so that my story can help them for His glory!


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