All you can do is pray

Have you ever caught yourself using that phrase (or something similar)? There’s nothing you can do, all you can do is pray. All you can do. There’s nothing else. Just praying. Just.

I catch myself saying it all the time. Particularly at the moment as I am struggling with a significant depressive episode. People keep asking what they can do. But I’ve lived with this long enough to know that the answer to that is basically nothing. Except pray. I supposed they can do that and feel they are doing something. Just prayer. That’s all. We’ll see if that helps, I guess.

Of course, when I say that, I am being honest. Unless you happen to be a psychiatrist who is somehow intimately related with my history of mental health and all the various drugs I’ve used and you are absolutely certain that a tweak in my meds would make a huge difference to me right now, there really is nothing you can do physically. Even if a psychiatrist were suggesting that, antidepressants are not exactly like other pills. It’s not necessarily the case that the more you pump in the better the effect. It is more of a delicate balance whereby too much or too little can be a problem. Given that my pills work 95% of the time for me, fiddling round with them now seems (from my vantage point) to be a mistake.

But if you can’t mess with my meds, and I have done enough counselling to know that there are no new techniques to offer me for which I haven’t already been given the tools. Nor has there been any specific event that requires some analysis to help me better deal with it. So counselling isn’t the answer either, assuming you might be in a position to offer it.

And then the physical symptoms – the lack of sleep, the difficulty concentrating, the guilt and anxiety about everything – there isn’t much anyone can do about those either. They are the symptoms of a wider problem for which there is nothing to be done except wait until it goes. I don’t mean to sound morose, but there really isn’t anything you can do. It is what it is. All you can do is pray.

But that’s where I need to check myself. Whilst all you can do is pray, it’s not like that isn’t doing anything. It’s not like I’ve said, all you can do is offer some bizarre incantation in the hope (though we know it doesn’t do anything in reality) that something might happen. We shouldn’t be talking about prayer like it’s voodoo, with a similar chance of success. You can’t do anything except pray, but what a thing that is to have in your arsenal! To know people are praying to the living, sovereign God who is in control of the entire universe and who calls on us to pray so that he might work through our prayers – that is something, right? No ‘just’ about it – it’s not a hail Mary (a great term for a play that probably won’t work) – it’s petitioning the God of the universe in the way he tells us we properly should.

So, yes, sometimes all you can do is pray. But that’s not a last ditch, might as well take a punt, I suppose we’ve no better options, thing to do. That is a very real, very valuable something. I appreciate everyone who doesn’t ‘just pray’, but who wants to know what they can do and, as part of that asks, ‘what can I be praying for you?’ Praying is doing something. And, if you’re a believer, we can all do that, even if we don’t know what else we could be doing.