Some years previously, this mother has found that her child was not getting on well at school. He began to bring home bad report-cards, he did not like the teachers, he hated the studies. The mother finds herself beginning to anticipate more trouble. She expects another bad report, more tales of being disliked by the teachers, more inability to do the work prescribed. Her very face as she meets the child at the door tells what she anticipates. Suddenly she realizes that the whole atmosphere of the home is melancholy with the sense of impending failure. Her personal influence, through the black background of her consciousness, is, in spite of anything she may say, foreboding. Then she endeavors to 'get hold of herself '; to prevent this thwarted desire for her child's happiness and success from turning sour and becoming a fixed, if almost unconscious, conviction that the child will not get on well at school.
She begins to pray. She invokes another conviction, that the good Spirit of the universe has no such intention for her child. She recalls some of the great passages of religious inspiration, the words of the saints who have been sure of a power outside ourselves, as well as in ourselves, making for righteousness. Thus gaining the prayer mood, she then reminds herself that she must be the channel for bringing this good-will into the life of her child. She replaces the picture of failure, which threatens to become fixed in her mind, with a more vivid and living picture of success. With all the love and sympathy and imaginative fire she possesses, she pictures to herself her petition being granted—the new attitude on the part of her child, his awakened interest in his studies, his liking for his teachers, his expectation of success. She prays intensely, with all her desire, through and in this mental picture.
This act is exceedingly difficult; but, if done, it changes the whole atmosphere of the home. The very face of the mother as she meets the child is magnetic of success for the child instead of being prophetic of failure. In the thousand ways, known and unknown, in which the mother's mind touches the mind of the child, encouragement, expectation of achievement, faith in his powers now flow in upon the will of the child. In petitions of this nature, the whole personality is stirred; desire, intellect, and imagination are at their highest point of efficiency, that she may become a conductor of God's good-will. She concludes her prayer with thanks-giving to God that the prayer has been granted, a supreme act of faith.
There is all the difference in the world between the man who says, 'I am going to give up my bad habit,' and the man who says, 'I have given up my bad habit.' So there is between feeling that God may answer the prayer and that God has answered it. The latter is the act of faith that the answer will be hindered only by the defect of the channel. The answer is granted; the flood of happiness and success is forcing its way through the narrow and obstructed channel of the mother's personal influence upon the child. Prayer has substituted such an influence for the previous, almost unconscious, suggestions of failure. There is no dogmatism in such prayer as to the method of the of the answer—that is left to the infinite possibilities of actual experience. The claim is simply made on the universe for the happiness of the child, and in the making of the claim the psychological machinery is set in motion for its being honored by the universe. And this effort to organize unsatisfied desire not only has its influence upon those for whom we pray, but tends to purify and enlighten the desire itself, so that, when the petition is granted, it may be on a much higher plane than when it was first offered. Yet it is the same prayer. The desire is always satisfied. But it often is sublimated in the process of satisfaction.
In the face of the impending death of her child, a mother who has so practised prayer on lesser matters has great powers. Her very face in the sick-room as the child dimly sees it, is on the side of health and life. And who can tell in what numberless ways the minds of those who love touch one another, all unseen even by the argus eyes of science. Miracles occur, and the tide of life returns into sluggish veins, when the desire of life is kindled through the touch of kindred minds.
Many objections will occur to one who reads for the first time this theory of prayer. Does not this explanation of prayer, it will be asked, run counter to the practice of One who said in his prayer, 'Not My will but Thine be done'? This phrase has been greatly misused. It has been misused so as almost to justify the Irishman's type of prayer, before mentioned. Rousseau best expressed a prevailing interpretation of it thus: 'I bless God, but I pray not. Why should I ask of Him that He would change for me the course of things, do miracles in my favor? I, who ought to love, above all, the order established by his wisdom and maintained by his providence—shall I wish that order to be dissolved on my account? As little do I ask of Him the power to do well. Why ask what He has already given?'