Please Don’t Pray with Me (In Airports)

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The following was a monologue I submitted for a student-run performance at Duke. I was going to write a blog piece on this issue, but felt that it would be better to keep it in its original form:

Having a visible disability is like shark bait for ignorant people lacking scruples. I swear, the mere sight of crutches is like blood in the water. Having lived with a disability all my life, I’ve learn to accustom myself to the inevitable stares or occasional questions, but the days I dread are the ones in which I’ve accidentally crossed paths with someone who’s decided that I am the perfect opportunity to exemplify God’s power to heal. On the spot. I’ve been taught to handle it with grace with a polite smile and nod and move about business as usual. However, there’s no manner guidebook for actually being prayed on. I don’t me for. I mean on…

I must have been 15 and my brother and I were off on a routine trip to visit dad for school vacation. He and my mother, feeling that it was a more efficient way to handle the pre-flight business, sat me at a bench outside the security checkpoint while they headed up one floor to check in the luggage. From the corner of my eye I glanced at the woman and her elderly mother cooing to a stroller in soft Spanish and proceeded to wait to my cue to move to get in line. Shortly thereafter, my mother and brother returned to collect me and as I stood from the bench, the woman approached my mother.

“May we pray with your daughter?” The woman asked. No stranger to such inquires at this point, my mother mumbled “Sure”, and motioned for me to follow her. Poor mom. I am sure she never would have consented if she had paid proper attention to the usage of prepositions but the next thing I knew I was caught in what can only be described as a quite unholy prayer sandwich. The woman and her mother placed one hand on my back and one on my chest and right there, in the middle of the Ft. Lauderdale airport, began to feverishly pray on my body for Jesus to heal me. Between shouts of JESUS CRISTO! and HEAL HER FATHER GOD! their bodies shook violently, as if wracked by father, son, and holy ghost all at once. I looked at my mother’s sheet white face and mouthed “MAKE. THIS. STOP.” She looked helplessly on, unsure how to make the scene come to a swift end without seeming rude just gave me an apologetic shrug. I finally had to bite my lip to keep from laughing, as did my brother, because things had reached level of Salvador-Dali absurdism. Once the incident passed, we made our way to the gate without saying a word, collectively too stunned to believe that yes, that really just happened.

Did I ever tell you that it really just happened more than once? More than once. So there I was with mom and my stepfather this time, wearily making it to the parking lot with our luggage yet again at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. What IS it about the fucking Ft. Lauderdale airport? The man pushing out luggage cart stopped at our car and asked my mom (because why ask my consent, right?) if he could pray. My stomach turned. Oh no, not again. At a loss of what to do she nodded-MOTHER, NO!-, and he approached with the same caution one would approach a frightened dear and asked if I believe in prayer. I choked out a yes and picked a spot on the pavement to stare at and waited until it was over. He held out his hands and prayed for God to heal me, but with the added twist and flourish of asking God to take the Devil’s hands off me.

…Ouch.

I spent the ride home yet again in stunned silence, not from shock and mild hilarity, but from stunned humiliation. At least he didn’t actually touch me this time…

Though Individually uncomfortable and at times, even amusing, these incidents collectively have left scars on me as real as the ones on my body. Rather than heal me as they intended (and you know the old maxim about good intentions), they helped break my self-esteem. They brought forth questions I’ve sought to stifle, questions that repeat in my head with sadistic rhythm when I’m out in public. Do I really seem that broken to people when I walk out the door? Does my body project a fate seem so grim that I actually need saving? Every once in a while I have to actively remind myself that what happened to me was an objective case of a genetic splicing error-not the Devil’s handiwork.

So, what have we learned here? First of all, I’ll never take my grade school teachers for granted again because prepositions really fucking matter. Just ask my mom. Secondly, when people stop someone with a visible disability and asks to pray, the problem lies not in the good intentions or wishing someone well. There are days I appreciate the feeling that people are out there rooting for me. The problem is that someone at first glance makes an assumption that my life is so bad and full of suffering and miserable that I need immediate holy intervention. What people should really be praying for in this situation is to have their good intentions supplemented with good judgment because I think that’s what God probably would have preferred. Heaven knows I would.

 

 

 

43 thoughts on “Please Don’t Pray with Me (In Airports)

  1. Mr. McChee

    If Jesus could heal a girl miles away because her centurion father believed he could and simply asked, then there’s no reason people can’t just pray to Jesus without notifying you of their activities.

    Next time just tell them that, if they have enough faith, they can pray for you from afar.

    • Erika Jahneke

      Hi, Megan… read about you in the Raw Story today. I’m also a female blogger with a disability who has been prayed over frequently…I’m 39, though, hoped it would be different for people coming up after me.
      If you’d like to talk sometime or something, e-mail me at ejahneke at yahoo.com.

    • Jason Jehosephat

      Thank you for saying what I was going to say, more or less. There’s nothing in Scripture that would give any believer the idea that there’s praying, and then there’s Extra-Strength praying when done hands-on, in full body contact with the targeted person, performed as a public spectacle. Indeed, Matthew 6:5-6.

  2. ABM

    Yeah, the douche thing is they’re not even doing it for you. They think they’re fighting a war against the devil, and you’re just another numbered hill in Khe Sanh. We take this one, Sarge, and we’ll all get a stripe for sure…

    Stay strong.

    • merridee

      Oh you’ve got right. I went to a Catholic School in the 60s where we had a disabled kid with Duschene MD who got prayed over because the pray-ers just knew his affliction was a punishment for his parents whose souls were in need of salvation due to what he perceived as their great sins.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      “They think they’re fighting a war against the devil, and you’re just another numbered hill in Khe Sanh.”

      GREAT LINE!

  3. Nick Hirsch

    Why do people feel the need to violate someone’s personal space in that way? Is there some kind of inverse-square law for prayer that I wasn’t aware of?

    Happy to find your new blog, BTW. Will be reading…

  4. Trish

    Parents are supposed to protect their children. I am sorry yours did not. Allowing such behavior towards one’s child–much less TOUCHING of the child–is inexcusable and actually constitutes mental and physical abuse. Being polite to strangers is a good thing but allowing them to abuse your child, WITH YOUR CONSENT, is WRONGWRONGWRONG!!!!!!

    Very early on it became apparent to me that my daughter did not like what we came to call “Head Patters”. Keeping a sharp eye out, I was able to catch these types before they could reach out to touch her. I would just explain, “Oh, I’m sorry! Erin doesn’t like for people she doesn’t know to touch her.” Generally, this sufficed and was not impolite. The only trouble we had, ironically, was with relatives. They may have been related but Baby Erin did not get that memo and the relatives took offense. Nonetheless, they were not allowed to molest my daughter. The problem was a lack of respect on their part. I never did understand why, knowing you would make a child scream, why would you want to touch it?

  5. Steve

    You need to have a talk with your parents about these disgusting parasites. It’s perfectly ok to tell them to get lost. If anyone else came up to you and harassed you like that, there wouldn’t be any hesitation. But religious people have so indoctrinated society that they are given a huge amount of “respect” and deference. This needs to change. They shouldn’t be treated differently from any other random stranger. Just say “no”. They will give you more strange looks because they aren’t used to being told “no”, but they better get used to it.

  6. Dorothy

    I agree completely with Mr. Chee. I have prayed for folks who didnt know I did and I still do. The point is to focus on that person in earnest prayer without drawing attention to yourself which is in some cases self serving

  7. I am so sorry you had to go through this. The thing that galls me the most is that they asked your mother for permission to pray “with” you, and not YOU!! Prayers going out that all people will exercise better judgment!

  8. namowal

    That’s insane! I’m not sure what would be more crazy-making: being the center of their circus or being singled out as someone who “really needed” their shenanigans. WTF!?

  9. People who say the parents should protect the child are right, of course. But action beats reaction, as the saying goes. People who study physical self-defense have the same problem–it’s good to know how to roll with a punch and take someone down, for instance, but if the punch comes out of nowhere when you’re least expecting it (as it often does in the real world) then you have to be ready to react correctly without really thinking about it consciously. You need to have trained the reaction until it feels automatic, in other words.

    But I’m willing to bet that Megan’s mom had not devoted much time to training herself to react to all requests to pray with Megan with a polite, “No, thanks, we’re followers of Muad’Dib.”
    I mean . . . . who would have? So when the request came, she was behind the curve already. Action beat reaction. She fell back on her trained response for awkward requests from strangers . . . look dubious, hesitate, acquiesce reluctantly. (At least, that’s my trained response–not because I’ve consciously trained to do it, but because that’s what I’ve done most of the time in similar situations.)

    You can actually go pretty far down this rabbit hole. A famous fighter pilot named Boyd popularized the concept of the “OODA Loop” decades ago. He argued that every time we see something that demands a decision, we go through the four steps:
    Observe (see the threat or opportunity)
    Orient (Adjust yourself to the new information)
    Decide (Make a decision based on your new orientation)
    Act (Execute your decision . . . after which you’ll have to do the whole loop over again)

    His point was that fighter pilots could be trained to try to change an opponent’s situation so fast that the opponent couldn’t keep up, if they could “get inside his OODA Loop.” I know what I’m going to do, so I do A. While you’re still observing and then orienting to A, I switch to B (which was my plan all along, so I don’t have to observe it, orient to it, or make much of a decision–I can act) and if it works, you’re still trying to orient yourself to A while I’m using B to win the fight.

    Megan’s mom was still struggling to orient herself when the prayers began, from the sound of it, which could happen to just about anybody. The thing I think would be most likely to make any difference would be to think it through ahead of time and figure out what your boundaries are, and then simply enforce that boundary every single time, no exceptions, no waffling to be polite. But that’s harder than it sounds!

    (Of course, the strangers could just mind their own business and mutter a quiet prayer on their own without disturbing anyone else . . . . but as has been pointed out above, that probably takes all the fun out of it for them.

  10. christy kennedy

    I just try to remember with people like that is that it’s much better to be irritated by them than to be one! I’m enjoying your blog, And just say MYOB if you want, but are you on a special diet?

  11. but with the added twist and flourish of asking God to take the Devil’s hands off me.
    …Ouch.

    Megan, I’m sorry for the scars you have because of people like the ones you’ve encountered. Though they may be well intentioned, they do far more damage than good, and I can understand why it affected your self-esteem. My late husband sustained a head injury from a car/train accident. A few years later, the head injury progressed into seizures that ‘well meaning’ Christians deemed were caused by the “Devils hand”. The evangelical Christians were members of our community who knew my partner from work.

    Then, a pastor (evangelical and a member of his extended family) came to visit him. He prayed for him, and then told him he was experiencing “spiritual warfare”, and was being oppressed by demons. It really messed with his psyche, and because he was declining mentally from the injury, his critical thinking skills also declined. The day the extended family member/pastor paid him a visit and prayed for him, was the day he committed suicide. To this day, these same Christians still believe it was the devil who caused his suicide. Sometimes being polite can be deadly.

    Thanks for sharing your story. A lot of people read The Raw Story, and your post will get the exposure it needs.

  12. You’ve written a great piece that people (particularly people of faith) need to read.

    Let me preface this by mentioning that I’ve been a Christian for about 30 years, have taught Sunday School and led youth groups and served on the board of elders at a church, and I do believe in the power of prayer and that God can heal…

    Those people you describe are absolutely wrong. And here’s the truth: They don’t really care about you at all. You represent an opportunity for them. They aren’t praying for you because they want you healed; they are praying because they want to be the one through whom God chooses to heal you. It’s all about ego for them. If they can pray healing on you, that means they are a super-christian and have a Gift of the Spirit that they can trumpet about. They want to be the hero, and they have decided to cast you as Lois Lane whether you like it or not. They could pray silently for you without ever bothering you about it, if their primary concern was your healing, bu tit’s really important to them that you know they are the one who prayed so they can get credit for it.

    Praying for someone is an intimate act; the person being prayed for is in a vulnerable position and should feel that they can trust the person doing the praying. The person doing the praying should either have an established relationship with the other person, or at the very least have been asked to pray for them. Inviting yourself to jump in and try to heal somebody is pretty arrogant.

    I can’t apologize for those people, they have to do that themselves. All I can say is I’m sorry you have been subjected to this.

  13. amsical

    This is such a good blog post. I have EB and have had similar experiences. Less so with the religious types (I’m in the UK and I think our Christians are shall I say, a little less… passionate?) but there are still people who think they have the solution. For example I’ve had quite a few people in my life say to me (or my mother when I was younger) “You know there’s this new cream I got from the chemist that might help”, or “You know homeopathy could be the answer or even reiki/spiritual healing” etc, etc. Although I know these people have a good heart, their lack of understanding can be rather frustrating.

    I understand the issue with them asking your Mum too. It’s so frustrating! I’m 28 now and people still ask her or someone I’m with. My Mum’s had it for years so she politely answers while asking me too so they realise I can speak for myself but my Sister and friends get very frustrated on my behalf and are annoyed by what people say. They do throw in the odd “Why don’t you ask her yourself” or do the odd sarcastic smile and wave at an adult who’s been staring a bit too long and should know better.

    Trish, I don’t know Megan but I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is child abuse. (I’m assuming you’re not kidding btw) as I know the kind of situations Megan is talking about. My Mum has been put on the spot in similar ways and you don’t want to be rude. If they were noticeably hurting me she would definitely step in. It’s so hard to know what to do in those situations though! Our Mum’s are probably thrown off guard just as much as we are! haha.

    Ams xxx

    • mb12691

      I agree, about Trish’s comment. My mother is wonderful and fought like hell to help me get to where I am today. I think she was shocked and caught off guard, just as much as I was. It is easy to say tell them to stop, another story when you’re in the moment and forced to react quickly and intervene. We have talked about boundaries since then and how to properly handle such situations if they ever happen again.

      • Erika Jahneke

        In my family’s case, being that I grew up around a lot of very shy Lutherans(Garrison Keillor is totally right about Lutherans, if you are not familiar with them) it took a while for it to cross our minds about the public event some people make of praying for others. I expect my mother thought they would just add my little crippled self to the list, and it seemed rude to turn down good wishes because they weren’t given out the way we would have wanted,

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Yet if you were miraculously healed, they’d take the credit for it because they did the praying.

      Old shtick with faith healers. If the healing works, it’s the Faith Healer’s great FAITH. If it doesn’t, it’s the Secret Sin or Lack of Faith in the healee.

      Just a variant of “What’s Yours is Mine and What’s Mine is Mine.”

      I am SO sick of One-Upmanship…

  14. Hi, Megan!

    I read the article on Raw Story — that’s how I found your blog — and I’m sorry people keep doing this to you! It is obnoxious, and humiliating, and really selfish on their part.

    I also think it’s a pity they didn’t pick this piece for inclusion in the skit — bodily autonomy, and random strangers feeling entitled to touch and comment on your body, is DEFINITELY a feminist issue!

  15. Sue

    Hi — Found my way here via Raw Story but plan to keep visiting.

    I grew up with a sister who also had a visible disability. The rudeness of strangers was appalling. We were frequently accosted in shopping malls while I pushed her wheelchair. When we were teenagers, my standard (and, unfortunately, equally rude) reply to people stopping to stare was “Take a picture! It will last longer!” Then we’d both cross our eyes, stick out our tongues, and laugh. People would huff and leave, but at least they’d leave.

    I think it’s necessary to do whatever you feel is best to protect yourself from the idiots of the world. And people who lay hands on you without permission are idiots.

  16. I have a hearing impairment and have been chased down on a public street in order to be prayed over. I feel your pain, especially when I was once asked if I felt anything yet. When I replied in the negative they insisted on praying again. After the second time was (shockingly) negative they just shrugged it off by saying it will take some time. I’m always too nice to tell them no though….

  17. KJ

    I’m a person with several fairly obvious disabilities and there are times when people stop and ask to pray for me and I’m very welcoming of their words…I mean, I once saw someone get healed of their disability, and some days are really difficult and honestly I just want to deal with the constant battling of physical and emotional pain.

    Then there are times when I want the whole world to go fuck itself so I’ll politely decline.

    In general I’ve found christians tend to do a lot of awkward stumbling when trying to figure out how to “deal” with my disability. They screw up a lot. Sometimes they think it’s my fault, or the sin of someone in my past that I have a disability. Sometimes they think I don’t WANT to be better or that I’m just not trying hard enough. I’ve found it depends largely on the person’s maturity.

    I’ve thought a lot about why this happens. I’m in seminary so I know how some of these reactions can be traced to bad theology, misunderstanding of the Bible and God or inappropriate teaching/training from other christian authorities.

    That said, I think MOST of it comes from society’s complete ignorance of how to interact and “deal” with disabilities and people who have disabilities. ALL of my able-bodied friends, religious or not, have at one point or another inadvertently hurt my feelings, or lack sensitivity in a passing comment/activity, or just plain fumbled when it comes to talking about my disabilities. I once almost got into a legal snafu with my university because of the way they handle a situation involving my disability. I’ve found that very, very few “able-bodied” people know how to navigate those waters without a hitch…religious or not. Like most people with disabilities I’ve had to develop tough skin.

    I 100% completely agree with your blog post…that religious strangers who want to pray for us, disability or sick or what have you, should be extremely sensitive and careful and discerning in what to say and how to say it. But I’m a little reluctant to hop on bandwagon of comments who are making judgment calls on the hearts and intentions of some strangers who screwed. It’s been my experience that anyone who don’t just ignore me out of awkwardness (ie, a lot of people) will probably say or do something in their short interaction with me that would cast judgement on their capacity for sensitivity and respect. People in general mean well. People in general screw up.

  18. suz

    Megan- I just wanted to say THANK YOU, and let you know as a born again Christian that I admire your honesty, your grace, and your strength. Good words that many folks should hear. I love your comparison of being prayed “on” vs. prayed with. I do love people’s intentions but I too often pray God would increase their common sense :)

  19. That is sad that bad experience(s) left you to stereotype all Christians. What you experienced was not true. I will still pray for you, in silence. By time your read this sentence I will be done praying for you.

    Your at an airport what do you expect they attract the extremist.

    When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.
    Matthew 6:5,6

  20. Nancy

    Megan, I am…well, not amazed at your story, but impressed with your patience in handling these ignorant people. I have a [now grown] son with Autism. Since his disability was not readily physically apparent, we often had a “lag time” before strangers would be able to identify that something was “wrong with him.” I have had rude strangers ask, “what’s the matter with him?” Took my cue from Judith Martin, aka “Miss Manners,” who suggested saying, “Why, he’s just fine today, how about yourself?”

    My pet peeve – and it’s just a minor “peeve”, compared the actual abuse you are enduring, is when strangers, and friends(!) suggest that I “received” a child with a disability because “God only gives these special children to special people, because He knows you can handle it.” Besides being a crock – I know too many sad stories of people who couldn’t handle it – what kind of God gets his jollies by handing out disabilities or health issues, just to see how we handle it?!

    If it’s a friend I truly value, I set them straight. It’s a pain in the ass, but I do educate people as to the idiocy and unintended hurt those comments cause.

    Hang in there!

  21. Ironically, this happened to me last week and my disabilities are not always so obvious. Thank heavens she didn’t touch me. How presumptuous would that be. Many Christians are nice people with good boundaries, morals and sensibilities, unfortunately the others who have none of those things are not shy about their Shenanigans. I left stuff I bought in the store to get away from my Christian Lady. I am an adult and that’s a choice I can make. I wish it would have been effective, but I am still diabetic even so.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Woo. New one on me, and I’ve heard some weird ones.
      Makes you want to either hide in a cave in Montana or start choking the stupid out of people.

  22. You are amazing, extremely intelligent, insightful and, way smarter than your professors. This is totally a feminist issue. Your perceived vulnerability is the reason these people feel they can publicly humiliate you. It’s total garbage that they are trying to help you. What makes them think you need help? They are the ones that need intervention. Next time they touch you, start screaming RAPE! It’s their problem, not yours.

  23. Hi Megan, thanks for sharing your story, it’s a heart-wrenching tale of good intentions having the opposite effect to what those people thought they would have. I came rather late in life to disability, but where I live and the areas I have to travel through, I don’t get imposed on as you have been. I don’t know if my experience is better, worse or comparable to yours, but there are days when it really hurts me emotionally, right down deep inside where nobody can see it.

  24. I have also received prayers from strangers and I hate it. Good intentions are sometimes very rude and also presumptuous. It’s like people assume we should be fixed because they could not handle looking like us. I once made a comedy sketch video about the prayers from strangers. And have written a little about it, and the approaches I get from complete strangers due to my Ichthyosis.
    What a great post Megan, you’re a wonderful writer. I’ve shared this post on twitter. Thank you.

  25. Pat

    I liken religion to a penis. It’s great to have one but don’t pull it out and wave it other people’s faces without their invitation.

    Seriously, I would be absolutely blunt and tell people that no, I do not want them to pray with me or over me, or prey on me. They are welcome to pray *for* me in private if they wish.

  26. I use a wheelchair for the last 35 years. I can directly relate to your experience r.e. prayer. When I was at a local carnival a man walked up to me and my son who at the time was about 6 years old. Without prompting he looked at my son and said I will pray to heal your crippled daddy so you will not be burdened caring for him. My looked at him with fire in his eyes and told the man he was an ignorant bigot.

  27. Philipa

    I am completely gobsmacked by the ignorance, the rudeness and the arrogance of people who presume to do these things to others. I have never heard of it happening in Australia but then… I don’t have an obvious physical disability. I am a Christian though and I would never presume to approach a total stranger in this way… to embarrass, humiliate, manipulate someone that we don’t know… to assume that there disability/affliction or whatever is the cause of satanic influences. REALLY? God does heal… but these days he general uses doctors, nurses, medicine, therapists, knowledge, information. Stay strong, Speak out. No one has the right to treat you in a way that humiliates you or makes you less than the wonderful person you are.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      There is a reason I am highly skeptical of Private Revelations and Spiritual Warfare types. And why I prefer to exhaust natural explanations before going for a supernatural one.

    • Perth mum

      Hi Philipa, yes, sadly it does happen in Australia. I’m in Perth, my son is visibly different, and we have been stopped for prayer more times than I can count, the most memorable and humiliating being in Ikea where a laying on of hands was apparently to occur. The language hurts- “Jesus heal this child” -he is not sick. “Lord fix this child” -he is not broken. “God cease the suffering of this child” -the only time he suffers is when people embarrass him in public. I, too, have a deer in headlights reaction to this, the presumption of such vocal Christians means acquiescing is often less time consuming and confrontational than saying no, but as he gets older, I am more inclined to make that fuss.

      I want to know what they are really praying for? If there is a divine plan, surely it included my son being the way he is? Why do they never pray for society to be more accepting of difference? In truth, they are praying their own discomfort away.

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