INTERVIEW with John E. Welshons

 

Q: What inspired you to write When Prayers Aren’t Answered?

 

A: Well, that’s an interesting story. First of all, I think praying for something and not getting it is an experience nearly all human beings share. One of the most difficult questions for people of faith is, “If I am good, why aren’t my prayers being answered.”  Even people who define themselves as atheists have probably prayed at some time for some thing, and – for many – their atheism may have arisen as a result of that prayer not being answered.

In recent years we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in the Power of Attraction, Creative Visualization, Positive Affirmation, etc. These paths all – essentially – use prayer and positive thinking as means of getting what we want. The current popularity of The Secret and the Abraham teachings is evidence of this resurgence. Both are concerned with cultivating “spiritual” tools and techniques for satisfying all our desires. Training our consciousness in that way can be extremely useful at times.

But – ultimately - what we really need are teachings that can bring about a profound transformation in the human heart, and thus in our world. Our culture has focused almost entirely on creating and satisfying desires. That’s what keeps our economy running. But that may not be the most spiritually growthful path. The problem is, there are huge costs involved in perpetuating desire, and the costs are cultural, political and spiritual.

The highest spiritual teachings have always been about cultivating love, compassion, and wisdom. They are about alleviating suffering. They are about treating other human beings as brothers and sisters. They are not about satisfying all our desires. They are about learning how – as an individual – to live in peace and harmony in this world where people and events don’t always behave the way we want them to. They are about learning how to be a presence in the world that contributes to the overall well being of everyone, not just “me.”  That is why - from the spiritual point of view – it is not really helpful to offer teachings that just increase desire. Because those teachings do not, generally, cultivate compassion and generosity. They tend to do just the opposite. They tend to perpetuate selfishness. They perpetuate the world’s problems rather than alleviating them.

 

Q:  What has happened for you – personally – that motivated you to write When Prayers Aren’t Answered?

 

Well, my life has been profoundly affected by many experiences of miraculously answered prayers – including a miraculous healing from polio in 1953 when I was three years old which was directly attributable to “the power of prayer.”  The story is told in greater detail in the book. But I have also had many periods when no matter what I prayed for, none of my prayers seemed to be answered, and no matter what I “visualized,” none of my visualizations came to pass. Ironically, when I look back over the course of my life, I can see that the times when prayers weren’t answered – when I didn’t get what I wanted – turned out to be very fertile times of spiritual growth. So I wanted to explore that, and share with others the ways in which, sometimes, thwarted desire can actually lead us to a closer relationship with God, or the Creator, or the Divine. Of course, to a certain extent, it’s our choice as to whether or not we want to let it do that.

Essentially, When Prayers Aren’t Answered offers a refocused vision of God and spirituality. I would like to help people know that they have not been abandoned – that they need not conclude,  that there is no God, or that God is cruel just because what they prayed for didn’t come to pass. I also wanted to share a new vision of what our life experiences can offer us in terms of guiding us to deeper spiritual growth – even the experiences we don’t like. And I wanted to talk about what our responsibilities are on the road to happiness – the fact that we may actually have to do something to find it. Happiness doesn’t usually just fall in our laps. We have to do some work to find it within ourselves. Ultimately the book is about how to stay connected to God, to the Spirit, to the Divine, to our Highest Consciousness, to The One – whatever you want to call it – and how to experience deeper and deeper levels of love and inner peace no matter what happens to us or our loved ones.

 

Q:  Have you come to any conclusions about the effectiveness of prayer?

 

A:  Well, simply this: that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the response we get to our prayers isn’t always the one we were hoping for. Because you can certainly make the case that prayers are always answered, but sometimes we don’t like the answer.

There’s a wonderful quote from Wayne Dyer which I used at the opening of one of the chapters in When Prayers Aren’t Answered. He said, “The purpose of prayer . . . is not to influence God to grant you special favors, but rather to remind yourself that you are always connected to God.”  That’s a VERY high statement!  And that – ultimately – is the message of the book. The truth is, many, many individuals and spiritual teachings use answered prayers as a measure of one’s spiritual success or advancement . . . that is to say, if your prayers are answered, it means that God loves you and is pleased with you. But God loves everyone. No exceptions. And it is possible that – in many circumstances - an unanswered prayer is as great a gift as one that is answered.

 

Q:  I think that may be a difficult concept for people to grasp. Many people think, “If God loves me then He will give me what I am asking for.”

 

A:  Yes. Many people do think that way. And that is one of the primary reasons I wrote the book. You know, think about it . . . if your parents gave you everything you wanted when you were a child, you might have had some major problems. If my mother had given me all the ice cream and candy I wanted, I would have been diabetic and as big as a house!  If she had let me drop out of school at the age of sixteen – which I wanted to do – I would have had a radically different life with much less freedom and opportunity than I have had. It was her compassion and wisdom that caused her to say, “no.”  It was her ability to see a bigger picture that I was able to see at the moment. It is entirely possible that the guiding forces in the universe can work the same way in terms of steering us around pitfalls which - with our limited vision - we can’t see.

The irony of it all is that – ultimately - happiness comes not from getting what we want, but from getting free of wanting. That’s really what Buddhism is all about. Buddha’s teaching is based on the Four Noble Truths:  The first is that life inevitably involves suffering. If you have a physical body, you will experience physical pain. If you have a human heart, you will experience emotional pain. If you don’t get what you want, you will suffer. It’s inevitable. But the thing we often forget is that even when you do get what you want, you will experience suffering because whatever you get is in time and space, and everything in time and space changes, decays, and ultimately dies. So you get the car of your dreams, but eventually it’s going to break down, the paint is going to fade, it’s going to get dented in parking lots, it’s going to get rusty, and it’s going to fall apart.  You find the partner of your dreams, but eventually – inevitably – one of you is going to die. That’s not pessimistic – it’s realistic. It is honoring reality.

The second Noble Truth of Buddhism is that the root cause of suffering is desire – or clinging, or attachment. That is, if you didn’t desire to have something you don’t have, or you didn’t desire for things to be different than they are, or for people to be different than they are . . . you could be happy right now.

The basic principle is that happiness is our natural state . . . our “True Nature” or “Buddha Nature.”  There are many names for it. In mystical Christianity, it is called “Christ Consciousness.”  So what inhibits our ability to be happy is not external conditions, but all of the chatter in our minds - the desirous, analytical, fearful, judgmental thoughts that fill our minds throughout most of our waking life. We’re so busy judging, desiring, analyzing, and fearing, and wanting things to be different than they are, that there is no open space of clarity in our minds – no quietness.

Quietness of mind is absolutely necessary for us to be able to feel our eternal “Buddha Nature,” or “Christ Consciousness.”  Our true nature gets crowded out by our incessant thinking, desiring, analyzing, and judging. And when our desires are thwarted, our minds are usually full of outraged, frustrated, sad, victimized thoughts. We get angry.

The truth is that happiness never comes from fulfillment of desire. It comes from unveiling the infinite love, peace, and joy within us – or, we might say, the God within us. Now, getting what you want may give you a little taste of that . . . a little rush . . . a “cheap” high, but it’s fleeting. It is going to pass. And then you’re going to get addicted to having your desires fulfilled because the only way you know to achieve happiness is to string together as many short-lived, cheap highs as you can, while trying desperately to avoid the inevitable “lows” in between.

 

Q:  Do you think healing through prayer is possible?

 

A:  Absolutely!  I have seen SO MANY examples of  “miraculous” healings that could only have come from the power of prayer. I have seen it in my own life and my own body. But, as I said earlier, it doesn’t always happen. And I don’t think a healing that has been prayed for which doesn’t actually come to pass is – in any sense – a reliable indicator of that person’s worthiness in the eyes, and in the heart of God. Many, many people actually get closer to God when they go through an illness, or an injury, or a devastating loss.

 

Q:  So what do you suggest we do when our prayers aren’t answered?

 

A:  Well, first of all, try to be patient. If your prayer isn’t going to be answered the way you wanted it to be – for instance, if you have prayed for a loved one’s healing, and they have died - try to be patient with the sadness you feel. Don’t be in a hurry to get rid of it. I know it’s agonizing and frightening, but it is the legacy your loved one has left you. Being a full human being requires a willingness to feel both joy and sorrow. Ask what it has to teach you.

Also be patient in cases where you may still get what you have asked for. God – or the Universe – functions in Eternal time.  Just know that the effects of your prayer may appear slowly . . . over the course of years, or decades. So just try to be patient. And don’t be so anxious to understand “why?”  There is an entire chapter devoted to the suffering created in our minds by the question, “why?”  Our minds habitually want to ask that question and have it answered. But – in many, many cases – there really are no answers. I mean, we can make up answers. We can construct all kinds of theological, philosophical, and psychological scenarios intended to imbue our sadness and disappointment with some profound meaning. But – ultimately – in the end, there is just our experience, and our reaction to it. Because, how do we know what God – or the universe – intends?  How do we know that there even is an “intention” which our minds could possibly comprehend. I mean, this universe we live in is infinite. Infinite! How can I understand why I didn’t get what I wanted in an Infinite universe?

The more helpful question is, “How do I use this experience to go deeper into love. How do I use this experience to be a better person. How do I use it to become a more loving and peaceful presence in the world.”  Love is the greatest healer. Love is how we heal our heartbreak. Love is the only thing that will bring us happiness. And Love is how we connect with God. Love and God are one and the same.  The deeper and purer our Love, the deeper and purer our connection with God.

No matter what happens to us, no matter what losses and disappointments befall us, there is no way for us to ever be disconnected from Love . . . and therefore no way to be disconnected from God. Real happiness lies in expanding the Love in our hearts to the point that our individual thoughts of “I,” “my,” “me,” and “mine” just fall away . . . and we begin to focus our awareness more on “us,” and “we,” . . . on the bigger picture . . . the larger universe.

Again, that universe is infinite. And Love is Infinite. So we ultimately Love ourselves right out of our selfishness and egocentricity. We Love ourselves back into the Oneness . . . back into the unified field of Light from which we all came.

 

WHEN PRAYERS AREN’T ANSWERED

by John Welshons

October 2007 • Hardcover • 296 pages

Price: $21.95

 

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