1. Sweat, Mary T.

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"Is it OK to pray with patients?" I've previously addressed this question in this column. However, it really is a frequently asked question. The quick answer is "Yes, of course it's OK to pray with patients," but it needs to be with the patient's permission. However, the question hinges on something a little closer to home. In the past I have addressed barriers and reasons that nurses don't pray or address spiritual needs of patients such as lack of time, not feeling prepared, fear of what peers may think, fear in general, and the like. Sometimes, within our spirit, we aren't prepared to pray. The health of our prayer lives is vital to praying for others.

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In Colossians 4:3-6, we are encouraged to devote ourselves to prayer so that God can open doors to speak the mystery of Christ and that our speech may be appropriately seasoned so we know how to respond to others. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing. In 1 Timothy 2:1, we are urged to pray, give petitions, and offer thanksgiving on behalf of all, including those in authority over us. We see over and over in the Bible that when people prayed, God responded (i.e., Genesis 18:16-33; see Moses in Exodus; 1 Kings 18:36-39; Acts 4:23-31).


The teaching is clear-we are to be praying for many things. As nurses, this could be our workplace, our profession, our colleagues, ourselves, and our patients. In Armchair Mystic, Thibodeaux emphasizes the importance and the effects of prayer. He notes that the graces of a healthy prayer life reverberate in the actions of everyday life just like a stone thrown on a quiet pond. The stone is small yet the ripples expand to every corner of the lake (2001, p. 161). Stang (2011) mentions that nurses should not be limited by physical resources for the recovery of their patients, but need to rely on spiritual resources as well. Extensive research and numerous articles have been circulated in many healthcare publications addressing the improved recovery of patients through prayer.


There are different types and definitions of prayer. I have noted 30 different definitions or expressions of prayer, but I like what St. Benedict says about prayer: "It is lifting of our mind and heart to God" (Green, 1977, p. 27). Simply put, prayer is communication with God. Spiritual care expert E. J. Taylor mentions four specific types of prayer. Meditative is quiet prayer with openness toward God, filling our minds with thoughts of God and/or Scripture. Colloquial is spontaneous conversation with God. Petitionary prayers are specific requests for divine help. Ritual prayers are set prayers that have been created by someone else and may be repeated over and over (2002, p. 205).


Although the types of prayer differ, one thing is certain: prayer is a discipline requiring specific time and attention. A few years ago I decided to be more serious regarding prayer. I got up 30 minutes earlier each day to pray. Daily, I sat by my window and prayed. One day I noticed a coworker running by training for the Boston Marathon. I realized both of us were training but with different goals. After she ran the marathon, she received a lot of recognition and was interviewed on local news. I had trained just as diligently and rigorously in prayer. However, my audience was an audience of One-God. He heard and worked in response to my prayers.


My prayers required work and made a difference, both then and now. We can pray with confidence knowing the positive outcomes of prayer are evidence-based, backed up by research and Scripture! Although we may not always see the results or receive recognition, prayer has proven outcomes. Most important, God is pleased when we pray for all things big and small.


Green T.H. (1977). A guide to prayer: Opening to God. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria. [Context Link]


Stang C. W. (2011). Is intercessory prayer valid nursing intervention? Journal of Christian Nursing, 28(2), 92-95. [Context Link]


Taylor E.J. (2002). Spiritual care: Nursing theory, research, and practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Thibodeaux M.E. (2001). Armchair mystic: Easing into contemplative prayer. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger.