You’re a parent and you find out that your child is ill. Very ill. Doctors are telling you that the recovery rate for this particular illness isn’t very high. The only treatments they’re offering are things that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Your kid is scared and looking at you with those big, anxious eyes. Parents are supposed to be able to fix anything, but you can’t fix this. Parents are supposed to always know what to say, but you’re speechless. Parents are supposed to be able to save the day, and you’re feeling like a total failure. It’s time to reach out for some help, so you hop online and start cruising through Christian websites looking for advice on how to handle your situation. It doesn’t take long to notice that a lot of them are telling you the same thing. This isn’t God’s will. Disease comes from the devil. Healing is just a prayer away. We have a big God: if you believe, you will receive. There’s power in numbers, power in repetition, power in holy water, power in fasting, power in chanting Bible verses. Tell God what you want enough times and He’ll surely do it.
Are they right? No, they’re not. Your kid’s disease isn’t a fluke or a spiritual attack or some terrible whoops. God isn’t some bumbling halfwit who keeps messing up in His care of us. God doesn’t get overrun by demons, and He won’t play the part of our Servant. The Bible isn’t full of magic spells that you can use to get God to do what you want. Holy water doesn’t do bumpkus, fasting is irrelevant, and there’s no way anyone can promise you that your kid will recover. Getting a bunch of Christians to pray for you is an epic waste of time because God is immune to the power of nagging. Whether your kid lives or dies, it won’t have anything to do with how much faith you had. Your faith doesn’t control the way God runs His universe and life isn’t about you getting your way all of the time.
In this post, we’re going to talk about the way things actually are, and we’re going to give you advice that will actually help your soul. You’re not going to like a lot of what we say because, let’s face it: this whole situation is already pretty crummy. As parents, we don’t want to see our kids suffer for any reason ever. As humans, we hate the fact that diseases even exist. So as soon as we start talking about kids who are seriously ill, we’re talking about a subject that intensely upsets and repulses us. If we ran the world, we certainly wouldn’t run it like this. We didn’t choose this program, we don’t approve of it, and those two facts alone are enough to fill us with rage. And yet where will raging get us? And where will it get us to pretend that what’s happening to us is some random fluke or that we can succeed in dominating our own Creator? When God strikes your kid with a serious illness, it’s very intentional and very personal. Of course you want to make Him undo it all, but controlling Him just isn’t one of the options He’s giving you.
God isn’t going to apologize for making your kid sick, because He doesn’t regret doing it. God isn’t going to pretend the whole thing was a whoops because He did it on purpose. God isn’t going to pretend He doesn’t want this to be happening because He absolutely does. If you want real help, you need to be willing to face tough truths, you need to understand what your actual options are, and you need to make wise choices. In this post, we’ll give you the information you need to complete all of these steps, but only you can decide that you want to go for real help. The far more common option among panicking Christians is to run off and find other Christians who will fill their heads with pretty lies and encourage them to cling to a bunch of harmful delusions. Clinging to delusions can work for a while—and it’s certainly a lot more comfortable than facing tough truths. But eventually God is going to crush your delusions, and when He does, you’re going to be in an even worse mess than you are now. The far wiser course of action is to deal with the tough lessons the first time God brings them to you. Trying to postpone them only ends up compounding your misery.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE
Your kid is sick. How did that happen? God made your kid sick. Forget about demons, sin, and circumstances. There are a million ways that kids get sick, but the bottom line is always the same: God is the Creator and Controller of all diseases. No one gets sick just because they were standing too close to someone else who was sick or because they had crummy genes or because they forgot to get inoculated. We cling to these kinds of logical explanations as a means of trying to feel in control, but at the end of the day, how God brought your kid down is irrelevant. What you need to be focused on is the fact that He is the One responsible for creating this mess, therefore He is the only One you should be holding responsible. When you try to blame other people or demons or circumstances, you are not only trying to hide out from tough truths, you’re also discounting the abilities of God.
God is very clear that He’s the kind of Creator who reigns with absolute control, not partial control. This means that nothing happens in this world that God doesn’t want to have happen. God also says that He is the Creator of all that exists. God didn’t just make you and your kid, He also made things like bacteria, viruses, and tumors. Demons only exist because God created them and is choosing to sustain them. Sin only exists because God invented the concept. People don’t want to do nasty things to each other by some freak chance—God intentionally designed humans to have both good and evil desires.
When bad things happen, the first major mistake Christians make is in trying to divorce God from the situation. While we call Jesus the “Lord of All”, we don’t want to really face the implications of that title. As we sing, “God is in control,” we don’t really want to face how much control He really has. God’s control is absolute. His power is supreme. As a Christian, you are no doubt comfortable praising God’s abilities, but you never want to face the full implications of them. You see, God cannot be supremely powerful if other creatures are able to override Him and do things that He doesn’t them want to. God isn’t really in control if His world is running amuck with evil. For God to truly be in control, He must be the God of both good and evil. He must be sustaining all things, not just nice things. And if God is choosing to create and sustain bad things, then clearly He has a purpose in doing so.
Your kid is sick. Most Christians are going to urge you to pretend that God is not responsible for this situation. But God is going to tell you that He is 100% responsible. God is going to tell you not to minimize His role in this because focusing on His involvement in this situation is critical to helping you make the right soul choices. So this is the first big decision you have to make: who are you going to view as responsible for this situation? There’s only one correct answer. God is responsible. God is doing this on purpose. You have to grasp this point before you can have any hope of correctly answering the next question, which is the all-important WHY?
WHY THIS IS HAPPENING
God has made your kid sick. But why? There are two things that you need to understand whenever you ask why God is doing something. First, there will always be many answers to that question because God is a multitasker. He’s never just working on one, simple, straightforward goal. He’s always working on many complex goals.
Imagine one teensy little grain of sand sitting on a plain surface. That single grain represents the simple answer we’re often looking for when we ask God why. Now imagine a large jar that is filled with sands of many different colors. There are red kernels, blue kernels, tan kernels, black kernels—the list goes on and on. Each teensy kernel of sand in that large jar represents a different answer to why God has made your kid sick. There are so many kernels of sand in that jar that you couldn’t even begin to guess at an accurate number. In the same way, you can’t begin to imagine how many different goals God is working on at the same time through your kid’s illness. This is how things really work with the nonhuman Being who finds it so simple to sustain this entire universe: He’s an extremely complex Guy. So while you’re super focused on how your kid’s illness is affecting your kid, you, and perhaps a handful of other people, God is looking at a much bigger picture. He’s using your kid’s illness to affect far more people than you dream. What’s happening to your kid is causing chain reactions all over the place, and some of those reactions are going to have eternal ramifications. So you see, there is no simple answer to the “why” question. The answer is extremely complex.
Now we said that there are two things you need to understand whenever you ask why God is doing something. The first point was that there will always be countless answers to that question. The second point is that most of those answers are irrelevant for you. Imagine that large jar filled with colored kernels of sand. If you pull the jar close to your face, you will see an occasional blue kernel sitting amid the ocean of kernels. Those blue kernels are the only “why” answers that are relevant to your personal walk with God. All of the other kernels represent answers which are only relevant to other people’s walks with God. Perhaps one time you took your kid to Dr. Ivan Kozlov. It was a one time visit. Ivan is a specialist and you were trying to find out treatment options. Ivan examined your kid, then he talked with you for thirty minutes. The final conclusion was that you should take your kid to see a different kind of specialist. So you did, and you never think about Ivan anymore. To you, he was just one in a long string of doctors who don’t really mean anything to you. You know nothing about Ivan’s personal life or his personal problems, and you really don’t care because you’ve got enough on your plate. Because you’re not God, Ivan ceased to matter to you once he couldn’t help you with your problem. You didn’t create Ivan, you aren’t sustaining his existence, and you don’t care about the man’s spiritual future. Well, God does care about these things. God loves Ivan just as He loves you and your kid. God is working in Ivan’s life every bit as much as He is in yours, and He intentionally arranged for you to bring your sick kid to Ivan in order to accomplish certain goals in Ivan’s life.
If you were to pour out all of the colored sand in that large jar, you’d find a few red kernels scattered throughout the mix. All of those red kernels represent the multiple agendas God is working on in Ivan’s life which are all linked to your kid’s illness. So when you ask God, “Why are You doing this?”, God could spend months explaining all of His answers to you. But He’s not going to, because that’s more information than you can handle. God’s not going to talk to you about the red kernels in that jar, because those kernels have to do with Ivan. When Ivan talks to God about your kid, God is only going to talk to Ivan about those red kernels. But when you talk to God about your kid, God is only going to talk about the blue kernels, because the blue kernels are the only kernels in the jar which are relevant to your own walk with God.
Now your kid is the one who is sick, so does your kid have kernels in that jar? Absolutely. Of all the reasons that God has for causing this illness, there are some which are directly relevant to your kid’s walk with Him, and we can imagine those reasons as being represented by orange kernels. Since it’s your kid, naturally you want to understand what God’s reasons are for them. But God is not going to share this information with you. When God is talking to you, He’s going to talk to you about issues that He considers to be relevant to your personal walk with Him. Here’s where you have another big decision to make. The smart move is to recognize that there are specific lessons that God wants to teach you through this experience, and then decide that embracing those opportunities for growth is going to be your top priority. The other option is to decide that you’re going to refuse to focus on those kernels that are relevant to you. God isn’t going to force maturity on you. If you want to spend all of your time praying for this problem to go away or if you want to spend your time obsessing over what other people’s kernels are, that’s a choice you can make. But these choices are very foolish because this situation is already happening and there’s nothing you can do to make it un-happen. That jar is already filled with sand and there are already a ton of people being affected by what God is doing to your kid. Some of those other people are going to focus on their kernels, others are not. The only people who are going to benefit from this experience are those who choose to keep their focus on their own walks with God. Unfortunately, this isn’t a popular choice among Christians.
When Christians get hit with upsetting trials, their instinctive response is to start pouring a bunch of time and energy into trying to control God. This is what you’re doing when you pray for God to make this situation go away or when you try to get a bunch of Christians to pray on your behalf. Other Christians can’t learn your lessons for you, and while they’re busy praying for you, they’re only avoiding dealing with their own kernels in that jar. You see, God doesn’t let other humans make your choices for you. A hundred Christians praying for you to “stand strong” isn’t going to magically infuse you with greater faith. A thousand Christians praying for your kid to get better isn’t going to make God revise His plans.
God isn’t a Creator who just improvises as He goes along. God is very purposeful in what He chooses to do, and He always considers the eternal ramifications of His choices. It is because your child’s illness is such a thought out, multi-purpose event that God is not going to let you or anyone else end it prematurely. This situation won’t resolve until God wants it to, and then it will only resolve in the manner of His choosing. Maybe your kid will experience a miraculous recovery. Maybe they’ll experience a slow recovery. Maybe they won’t recover at all. You don’t know what God is planning here—no one does. But what you can know is that all of this is happening very intentionally and it’s way bigger than just you and your kid.
Since you are not in control of this situation, the smartest thing for you to do is to focus on submitting to the One who is. You need to see this as a personal challenge from God to you, because that is what it is. God wants you to grow closer to Him. He wants you to continuously mature. He created you to revolve around Him and He is always going to encourage you to pull your focus off of other humans and onto your own walk with Him. This is true even when you’re dealing with a sick kid. As a parent, certainly you have responsibilities to take care of your child, but raising your child is a project that God is leading you in—it’s not something you have to handle all on your own while He stands back and watches.
When our children become seriously ill, we suddenly find ourselves being bombarded with decisions that we don’t know how to make. The human body is a universe all its own, and no one comes close to having a complete understanding of it. As experts weigh in you find yourself being pushed in different directions, how are you supposed to know which course of action is best? You don’t. You can’t, because God just isn’t willing to share His wisdom with you. God prefers to lead you one step at a time, and His leading is often so subtle that we feel like we’re bumbling around in the dark. We’re afraid of making the wrong choices because we’re afraid of being blamed if things become worse. And yet is God going to blame us for not having wisdom that He is refusing to give us? Certainly not. God doesn’t expect you to know what to do when your kid gets sick. He doesn’t want you relying on yourself in these situations, He wants you relying on Him.
As the Creator and Sustainer of all life, it was entirely up to God when your child would be born, and it is entirely up to Him when your child will die. You simply don’t get a vote in these matters, just as you didn’t get to vote on whether or not your child should become ill. If you’re going to benefit from this situation, you need to realize how much control you don’t have over the earthly circumstances. Spiritual growth is not about you learning how to control circumstances—it’s about you growing closer to God. None of those kernels that God has placed into that jar for you have to do with you fixing your kid’s condition. Instead, they all have to do with you acquiring some new perspectives and embracing certain soul attitudes. Since we’re not God, we can’t tell you exactly what lessons you’re supposed to be learning in your situation. That’s something you’re going to have to ask God about. But we can give you some likely possibilities, because there are common themes which all Christians must grasp at some point. That’s what we want to do in the remainder of this post: suggest some possibilities for you to consider. Even if you don’t feel like any of these things apply to you, they’ll give you an idea of how God uses child illnesses to help draw parents closer to Him.
There are certain core soul attitudes which God is always going to be working on with you. Submission is one of them. Submission is one of the defining characteristics of a Christian, because without sufficient submission to God, it’s impossible to even become a Christian in His eyes.
Submission is a soul attitude which says to God: “I recognize that You are the Supreme Authority over all that is created. Because You outrank me, what You want is more important than what I want. So even though I don’t like much of what You do, I’m going to obey You because I want You to be pleased with me.” Submission only comes up when there is a disagreement—a clash of wills. You certainly don’t want your kid to be sick. God does. You feel like this whole situation is negative. God says that the negative aspects of this situation are worth the potential good that can come out it. The point is that you and God have drastically different assessments of this scenario, and yet He’s the Supreme Creator and you’re the created dot. So how are you going to respond to God’s Authority? He considers this a far more important question than whether or not your kid is going to get better. But how can He? Because He has different priorities than you do. You want to be healthy, happy, and comfortable. God wants you to mature. To God, you’re like a seed that is supposed to become a tree. You’re supposed to change—and in some pretty big ways. A seed doesn’t look anything like the tree that it becomes. In fact, the original seed ends up being totally destroyed through the sprouting process. But is this a bad thing? Not when you want a tree.
In life, we humans often fall into a mentality where we want to stay seeds. When life is going well, we don’t want anything to change. We’re fine with staying just as we are when where we are is a pleasant place. We resist change—especially destructive change. And yet what happens if you plant a seed into the soil and that seed never sprouts? Eventually it starts to rot. In this world, God doesn’t give us the option of staying the same. If we’re not growing in positive ways, we start to stagnate and regress. From the very beginning, God has intended for humans to be creatures who are constantly evolving. The kind of evolution God wants has nothing to do with this rubbish about humans evolving from slime and apes. It’s more like the process of a child becoming an adult. A baby and a fully grown adult are both humans, yet they look quite different and they have very different capabilities. It takes many years for the infant to evolve into an adult, yet growing up like this is a very positive thing. Imagine what a mess it would be if a human baby tried to resist growing up. For a child to cling to the mentality of an infant only ends up harming the child.
God doesn’t give us a choice about changing: He forces it upon us. We will change. The only part He lets us have a say in is whether our general direction of change will be positive or negative. When God brings trials into our lives, He is forcing us to change. Your child becoming ill is a classic example of this. Once God creates that situation in your life, you are forced to respond to His decision to do this, and how you respond plays a big role in whether you will be changed by this situation positively or negatively. Your submission to God is just one of many important spiritual choices that you’re going to make in this situation. God has done something that you don’t like: you can either try to accept this based on the fact that He outranks you, or you can try to pretend that you outrank Him by demanding that He stop all of this and quickly fix your child. It is only practicing submission which will help your soul. Trying to dominate God is only going to drag you backwards.
Reverence is another critical soul attitude which every Christian needs to keep developing. Reverence is a sober respect for God which is based on the fear of His awesome power. Having your child fall seriously ill puts you in an excellent position to practice reverence, because disease frightens us. As your child’s life hangs in the balance, God makes you very aware of the fact that He is the One controlling that life. God could kill any of us off at any time—that’s some terrifying power. At the same time, He can keep us alive against our own wills, He can miraculously cure us, and He can prevent anyone from being able to help us. The more we contemplate the scope of God’s power, the smaller we feel. No one can take a life that God is not ready to end. No one can save a life that God has decided to take. God is simply too powerful for us to dominate, control, or intimidate.
So why is reverence so important? There are many reasons, but one of the most important ones is that reverence deepens submission. It is realizing the vast difference between our power and God’s that helps us get a better grip on what dots we really are. This in turn helps us to see how absurd it is for us to think we can war against God and win. When we’re hurting, we often end up hating God and wishing we could really stick it to Him somehow. In such moments, it is reverence which drives us back into submission and motivates us to ask God to have His way with us, even though we despise the choices He’s making. God is not another human who we can negotiate power with. God will never be less than the Supreme Authority over us.
EMBRACING CORRECT PRIORITIES
As the Controller of our eternal destiny, it is pleasing God which matters more than anything else. Trying to make Him our last priority or even our tenth priority simply won’t work. God demands to be first, and we simply can’t ignore Him without severe consequences. When your child falls ill, it’s natural to want to view them as your first priority. And yet it is never correct for you to make another human your top priority in life—not even when that human is your own child. It is God who must be first, because God is your Creator and the One who you depend on for all things. At the end of your life, God is not going to be giving you points for being a good parent. God is going to judge you solely based on how you responded to Him. It is God who defines what good parenting is, it is God who convicts us to dole out the love and discipline at the right times and in the right ways. Your primary motivation for treating your child well is supposed to be to please God, not to please your child or other humans.
For many Christians, “living for God” is just a cliché. They don’t understand what it really means to live for God, and in the day to day they are really living for themselves and other humans. Christian parents are encouraged to obsess over their kids and get their identities so tangled up in them that they end up feeling like a part of them is in danger of dying when their child falls seriously ill. And yet the belief that two humans can merge into a single mysterious being is utter nonsense. God won’t be judging any of us in pairs. He works with us as individuals and He judges us as individuals. You do not define who your child is and your child will never define who you are. Certainly you can form a very strong emotional bond with your child, but you can also move on when that bond is severed. You do not need your child to sustain you in life—you only need God. And yet when we’re faced with the possibility of losing our children, the depth of our dependence on them is suddenly brought to light. Often in such moments we find ourselves terrified of trying to do life without our child. We can’t picture what such a life would look like, and we quickly decide that it would be unbearable. This is when we stop focusing on personal growth and instead start desperately pleading for God to spare our child’s life. We bargain, we beg, we might even try bribing. And yet the fear that drives this kind of behavior is exactly what God wants to address with us.
You don’t need your child. God didn’t create you to revolve around your child. In your life, your relationship with God is supposed to be your first priority. He is the One you depend on for all things. Loving your child is a good thing. But becoming dependent on them is not good. When you become so obsessed with any other human that you find yourself unable to define who you are apart from them, then severe changes need to happen. You simply can’t get where you need to be with God while you’re worshiping other humans.
By confronting you with the possibility of losing your child, God challenges you to think about your priorities in life. What if your child actually dies? Then what? Are you going to decide that you are broken beyond repair? Are you going spend your life wallowing in sorrows and obsessing over what might have been? Such mentalities are only going to land you on the wrong side of God’s patience. While it is very easy to find humans in this world who will applaud you for worshiping the dead and staying stuck in the past, God is not going to agree with your assessment of your child’s importance. No human is critical to the survival of another. It is God who sustains us, not other people. We must be willing to let go of anyone who God takes away from us, and we must be willing to receive whoever He brings us. We must learn how to hold all created beings loosely, while saving our vice grip for God alone. This is a mentality which takes time to develop, but we can make important progress by asking God to help us get our priorities where He wants them to be.
It is God who created both you and your child. It is God who is choosing to keep sustaining you both, and it is God who is controlling everyone’s quality of life. It is a simple matter for God to take care of billions of humans at the same time, but taking care of just one sick child is a task that can quickly overwhelm you. You’re just a dot. You don’t have endless power. You don’t have perfect wisdom. You aren’t a needless Being with endless resources to spend. When God brings stressful trials into our lives, He is often forcing us to bump up against our great limitations for the purpose of reminding us of just how limited we are. And yet as you come to the end of your patience, energy, and cheer, God is going to be encouraging you to remember that this situation is not yours to carry. It is God who made your child ill in the first place, and He is the One ensuring that your child gets all the care that He wants them to have. When you have no idea what to do next, it’s because God’s not telling you. When God’s not telling you, it’s time for you to practice depending on Him to do a job that only He can handle.
When you’re getting bombarded with medical bills, frightening diagnoses, and terrible decisions, it’s like you’re hanging off a cliff by a rope, too exhausted to keep climbing. How can you ever make it to the top when you can’t even lift your arms? You need someone stronger to haul you up one inch at a time. That someone is God. In distressing situations, God gets us through one moment at a time, and each moment is like an upward tug on that rope. Eventually we make it to the top, but it can feel like we’re hanging there forever, just waiting for the rope to snap and leave us to plummet to the valley floor. In such moments we are acutely aware of how dependent we are on God to save us. We can’t make it on our own. We’re too fried to even try to help Him lift us. And yet this is exactly where God wants us to be.
As a human, you need oxygen to breathe. You’ve been breathing the whole time you’ve been reading this post, but how much have you thought about it? Not much. You don’t spend your life thinking about what a relief it is that oxygen is always available to you. You just take it for granted. In fact you’re so used to it that in discussions of dependency, oxygen isn’t something you tend to think about. If someone asks, “What do you need to be happy in life?”, you’ll think of things like money and food sooner than you will oxygen. You probably won’t even mention oxygen on your list of needs, even though it is so critical to your survival. We often fall into a similar mentality when it comes to our dependency on God. Our need for God is even greater than our need for oxygen. We need Him to hold our very molecules together, and He is doing this and so much more for us 24/7. But we’re so used to Him taking care of us that we take Him for granted. Then we start acting like we don’t depend on Him at all. The more He does for us, the more comfortable we become, and the more we discount His care of us. Well, this kind of mentality isn’t going to help us grow closer to God. When we lose sight of our dependency on Him, we need Him to help us get back in touch. Any kind of trial which causes us to feel overwhelmed is an ideal way of helping us reconnect with our dependency on God. A sick child is a great example of an overwhelming trial. As we find ourselves bumping up against our own limitations, we end up turning to God for help. When we’re fried, we cry for Him to carry us—something He’s been doing all along only we’ve been too caught up in other things to notice it.
Are you seeing a pattern with the lessons we’ve been discussing? All of these lessons are focused on you growing closer to God by increasing your awareness of His involvement in your life and helping you respond to Him with more appreciation, respect, and submission. For you, this is what your child’s illness is about: it’s about you growing closer to God. God is always taking care of your kid, and when He wants you to take your child to a doctor or give them some kind of treatment, He knows how to communicate that to you. As we said before, it’s not wrong to seek help. Growing closer to God doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of receiving God’s help through human channels. On the contrary, you should be wide open to God helping you in some unexpected ways, because God loves variety and He’s very unpredictable. But while you’re following His lead with your kid and watching Him unfold that situation, you need to be looking for the lessons that have to do with you and Him, because those are the lessons that matter most. However this situation works out, you want to end up closer to God because of it, and the only way that will happen is if you are receptive to the things He wants to teach you.
In this post, we’ve discussed just a few of the lessons which God often wants to teach parents when He causes their kids to fall ill. There are countless other lessons. What you need to understand is that there are lessons which are specifically for you in all of this, and those lessons all have to do with you growing closer to your Creator. If you ask God to show you what your lessons are, and to help you embrace everything He wants to teach you, He will, and you will end up better off for having gone through this trial.
Life is about God whether we want it to be or not. As a human, you were designed to revolve around God, and you will only find fulfillment through pursuing an ever-deepening relationship with Him. Is there anything you can do to make God heal your kid? No, there isn’t. Over time, Christians have made up a bunch of rituals, prayers, and formulas which they will try to tell you about or sell to you as guaranteed ways of resolving your crisis. The bottom line of these things is always the same: you trying to make God do what you want instead of being receptive to Him changing you into who He wants you to be. Many Christians will tell you that your situation is just a rotten coincidence, or a demonic attack, or a consequence of sin. But you need to see this as an opportunity for growth and decide that you’re going to make the most of it. Don’t get caught up in useless guilt trips about insufficient faith or unconfessed sins or non-existent curses. Ask God to show you what He wants to teach you through this and He will. God created this situation in your life on purpose. It’s pointed. It’s personal. But it’s also a fabulous opportunity for you to step up your pursuit of the only thing that really matters: pleasing God.
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