Working with seriously ill children, we meet families from many different cultures and religions.
One thing is abundantly clear; those with faith trust their God way more than they trust their health professionals.
That said, I am often left wondering if religion is helpful or harmful. Of course one cannot generalise but let me describe a few cases to illustrate my point.
The mother who is actually terrified of losing her child, she can see him getting sicker and sicker, but she cannot talk about it. She cannot voice her fear as her family will tell her she has lost her faith. “God heals. You must have faith.” Ultimately she feels like it is her fault that her child dies – I should have had more faith.
The teenager who cries with me for over an hour. He feels abandoned by God. “I pray, I pray so hard every day for God to heal me. Why won’t he? What did I do wrong? Maybe he is not even real.”
Another teenager who is overwhelmed by cancer and so ready to die but his father knows he will be healed. We have all heard of people “hanging on”? Well this child is hanging on, dreading letting his father down.
Then there is the mother who is asking questions, “why me, why my child?” and the well-meaning nurse who says, ‘Don’t cry, it is in God’s hands”. And in one moment, the mom is shut down, forbidden to grieve out loud.
The parents of a new born with a lethal heart condition; their stranger neighbour approaches them to say they must just keep praying for a miracle, not stopping to check that they are actually atheist and find no comfort in his words.
I suppose really, it is not religion that is dangerous but rather the user. The individual that is so wrapped up in what they are feeling or needing to believe that they cannot show compassion and empathy for what another is going through.
It is the human condition to question and search for meaning and answers. Let’s learn to think before we speak. Examine our motives before offering what we believe will be comforting words. Listen first and listen to hear. To hear what the other really needs, not what we need or think they need.
Its that simple. Stop. Listen. Love.
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