Can Prayer Change God's Mind?

Growing Up Catholic

My First CommunionI was raised Catholic. One of my earliest memories is of my Irish Catholic grandmother teaching me to make the sign of the cross. “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (later updated to Holy Spirit). Amen!” “Did you bless yourself, Tommy?” grandma would ask me. When I woke up in the morning. Before I went to bed. Whenever we were leaving her house. “Did you bless yourself, Tommy?”

I can still hear her heavy-Irish-brogue, “Go on, Tommy. Get the bottle. It’s on the top of my dresser.” I would run to her bedroom, find the plastic bottle with the picture of a cross and hands folded in prayer on it, and wait till grandma sprinkled with the water. The magical, mystical holy water, blessed by her parish priest. “Go on now. Bless yourself, Tommy. In the name of the Father...”

My family went to church every Sunday. To pray. Same pew. Up front. Every Sunday. Me, my mom and my dad, and my 4 brothers and 2 sisters.

I went to Catholic grade school and Catholic high school. In the early years, I went to Mass every day before school even started. We all did.

Every day. And I prayed. Or tried to. In school, I was taught to put crosses on my school work. I wrote JMJ (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) on the top of my papers, too. Symbols of prayers that I would do my best work. That I would get the answers right. Please God!

Of course I prayed right before and certainly during tests. “Please, please, please help me God. Help me get an “A” on this test.” I prayed at our school sporting events. “Help us win the game! Help us beat them!” I prayed during spring tornado drills. “Please save us from this storm. Keep us safe.” I prayed for everything.

I learned the words to the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. I said the rosary. And every Friday afternoon in Lent I “did” the Stations of the Cross with my classmates.

I grew up praying.

Are You Mad at God?

My 18-month-old daughter Erin died in 1990, when I was 33. My prayer life hadn’t really evolved much from my Catholic school days. There was no need for it to. My prayer during the three days and two long, sleepless nights that Erin was in the hospital was a continuous, frightened, desperate loop of “Please, please, please help her get better. I will do anything, dear God. Anything you ask, if you help her get better.”

Erin died anyway. Despite my prayerful pleas. My prayer, and the prayers of my parents, and siblings, and Erin’s aunts, uncles and cousins, along with the prayers of all of our friends and co-workers did not appear to be answered.

A few short days after Erin died, my parents told my about their friend, Ed, who was so angry at God. Ed had asked God to restore Erin to complete health. He was confident God would grant his request. “Ask and you shall receive.” Ed was devastated and angry when God’s answer (apparently), to his very specific prayer request, was “no.”

My priest friend, John, asked me - as we were planning Erin’s funeral - if I was angry with God. “Are you mad at God?” John asked. “Angry at God?” I replied. “God had nothing to do with Erin’s death. The closest I ever got to God was when I was holding Erin in my arms. No, John. I am not angry at God.”

Remarkably, I wasn’t.

Pray for a Miracle

Eight years later, as 1998 was coming to a close, my 43-year-old wife Trici was laying in a hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit of Oak Park Hospital. Trici was hooked up to more bells and whistles than I care to remember. Close the end of the second day, her doctor looked me in the eye and said, “Tom, you need to pray for a miracle. Get everyone you to know to pray, too. It’s going to take a miracle to save Trici.”

I did what I was told.

I quickly pulled together a list of all the “great-pray-ers” that we knew. I asked a couple of family members to make the phone calls (and this was before cell phones). Tell them, “Trici is dying. We need a miracle. We need your prayers. Pray for a miracle.” The calls went out. The barrage of prayers-for-Trici’s-miracle-healing began.

I tried to pray, too. For my wife ... who lay dying in the ICU on New Year’s Eve. Our two sons were 3 and 7 and waiting for mommy to come home soon.

What prayer, though? What prayer should I pray? I no longer felt comfortable praying the prayer I did when Erin was sick. The prayer rooted in my early Catholic upbringing. The prayer that goes something like, “Please, please, please dear God ~ save her. I’ll do anything if you save her. Please!” I had done way to much spiritual and emotional “work” to heal after Erin died to recite those words. The begging and deal-making no longer rang true. But, if not those words, then which ones? What prayer?

Standing in the ICU waiting room, I remembered a story I had heard Oprah tell about a conversation she had with Maya Angelou. The two women were talking and Oprah had shared an at-the-time horrible situation she was in. Maya Angelou didn’t miss a beat. “Raise your hands up high, my dear, and shout ‘Thank you for this opportunity to grow. Thank you for this opportunity to grow.’” Could I do that, too? In the ICU waiting room of Oak Park Hospital while my wife lie dying in a hospital bed in the next room?


With my arms outreached high, and my eyes looking upward, only one prayer made sense. Four simple, powerful, challenging words.

Thy Will Be Done.

Thy Will Be Done.

The only prayer I could pray was the prayer of complete surrender and trust.

Thy Will By Done.

And less then 24 hours later, Trici died. Anyway. Our collective prayers could not save her. We could not and did not change God’s mind.

Perhaps ... I thought ... “thy will” was, indeed, done.

And in the weeks, and months and even years that followed ... as I tried to make sense ~ and peace ~ with my life ... I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did we screw up?” Did all the people we identified as great “pray-ers” say the wrong prayers? Should we have made even more phone calls? Should we have had more people praying? Or were they just not the right people saying the right prayers?

After Trici died, I worked to heal once again. I immersed myself in all sorts of self-help, new age, new thought, and spiritual books. I had my favorite spiritual teachers and authors and attended a few of their workshops, retreats and lectures. I listened to their lectures on audiotape and CD.

I read Louise Hay’s iconic best-seller, “You Can Heal Your Life.” The back cover says it all. “If you are willing to do the mental work, almost anything can be healed.”

Really? Almost anything?

The author includes a list of most body parts - knee, liver, spine, brain - and a long list of ailments - high blood pressure, kidney problems, varicose veins and tuberculosis. She identifies a “probable cause” and gives a “new thought pattern.” She is a huge advocate of using daily affirmations as a tool to assist us in our healing.

Really? Could this really be true?

If it is true, then did Trici somehow “bring on” her own death by her beliefs?

Did Erin?

Trici had blood clots in her lungs. Louise Hay suggests that the probable cause of blood clots is “closing down the flow of joy.” She suggests that the new thought pattern should be “I awaken new life within me. I flow.” The blood clots collected in Trici’s lungs. Ms. Hays suggests that problems with the lungs is caused by “Depression. Grief. Fear of not taking in life. Not worthy of living fully.” Her suggested new thought pattern is “I have the capacity to take in the fullness of life. I lovingly live life to the fullest.”

Two of the common themes of many of the authors and teachers I was studying were the notion of karma and the “we create our experience” way of thinking.

So, more than once I asked myself ... was Trici’s death, and Erin’s too the result of some kind of karmic balance that needed to occur based on past life experiences? Was my being the one “left behind” part of my own karmic experience? A karmic debt that I needed to pay? A continuation of my own past life experiences?

And what about this “we create our experiences” stuff? Did Erin somehow created her own death? At 18-months-old? And Trici, too.

Hmmmmmmmmmm. I don’t think I’m buying it.

Pushing the Envelope. Big Time.

When my 13-year-old son Rory had his first seizure the night after his second day of 7th grade in August, 2004 ... a part deep down inside of me did not think he would recover. I can’t really explain why. A part of me just knew that “this was not good.” But, another part of me thought, “No, he will recover. He has to.” That part of me reasoned, “This is how the story ends. Family struck by two unimaginable losses - a mother and a child - receives the miracle they’ve been praying for. Rory Brennan Zuba is miraculously healed to the astonishment of all his doctors.”

After weeks and weeks of misdiagnosis following that first seizure, time-consuming treatments, hospital stays, doctor visits and more tests than I can list ~ we finally had a diagnosis. Rory had terminal brain cancer. Glioblastoma multiforme. “The kind of cancer you DO NOT want him to have,” a doctor-friend told my mother.

So ... I decided to push the envelope. Big time. I had nothing to loose and everything to gain. Once and for all I wanted to know if I, if the collective “we,” could change outcomes through prayer. Could we cure this child? Could we change God’s mind?

I wasn’t going to make the same “mistake” I might have made with Trici. This time we weren’t going to come up empty handed because we didn’t say the right prayer, or we didn’t contact the right people, or we didn’t have enough people praying the right prayers. This time we were going to get it right.

This time, I was going all out. No stone would be unturned.

My brother Dave helped me create a Caringbridge site ( I have a large family (6 brothers and sisters) and I tend to hold on to my friends, so word of Rory’s cancer spread quickly ~ throughout the world actually. The intention I set was to create a comprehensive treatment plan for Rory incorporating the best of both Western and Eastern medicine.

In no time I had people of all faiths from all over the world - Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and Muslims - praying for Rory’s complete recovery. I was pretty confident that all the basis were covered. Hundreds and hundreds of people praying, from all different faiths, from all over the world.

In addition to the standard, traditional forms of prayer, we included:


Chinese herbs



Craniosacral therapy


holy water from Medjugorje

ashes from India

electromagnetic healing

a 2-day consultation with Dr Dietrich Klinghardt in Washington state and adhered to his daily (almost hourly) schedule of exotic supplements that I faithfully made sure Rory never missed

Dr. Stanislaw R. Burzynski’s experimental, controversial treatment in Houston, Texas

holy water and blessings from a Catholic priest

a low salt - high potassium, organic diet

a juicer, I borrowed from a friend. I tried to cram as much juice down Rory’s throat as possible

handmade signs with words like cancer-free, and healthy, and love and wrapped around every liquid that entered Rory’s body

candle lit prayer vigils

crystal bowls to raise vibrational frequencies

oxygen treatments


If someone had said, “Paint your face green, spin around three times and jump on one leg cause I heard that cures brain cancer,” believe me, I would have done that, too.

My mantra, my prayer, the vision I held for my life was plain and simple ~ a healthy, happy cancer-free Rory. I was doing everything I could to create that future. I asked people to literally draw pictures of their own future including a happy, healthy cancer-free Rory ... the one without the brain cancer. I displayed many of those pictures all over the house. If our thoughts created our reality ... let’s get to it.

And despite all the efforts, intentions and actions. All the prayers. By all the people. In countries all over the world, from all of the world’s major religions. Despite all the traditional and alternative treatments and techniques and practices we included...

Rory died anyway. On February 22, 2005.

Hard as I tried, I could not “pray him better.” We could not “pray him better.”

And God knows (pun intended) we tried.

Nothing I did, nothing we did, “changed God’s mind.” Nothing spontaneously melted the cancer cells away. No amount of mental work resulting in Rory’s body “healing itself.”

And as I searched and searched and searched for answers ... because I wanted peace ... I could come to only one conclusion.

God was in charge. Always was. Of everything.

God’s Perfect Mind

To suggest that God’s mind could have been changed by what we did - but what I did - suggests that God’s first plan for Rory was flawed. That somehow, someway, that plan was “less than” and needed to be revised, to be updated. That it was not perfect. And that understanding of how things work no longer was in sync with my beliefs.

The only conclusion I could come to was that Rory died at the perfect time, in the perfect way. His death was not a mistake. It was not an accident. Every detail was actually in divine order. All of it. It can’t be any other way. Ever.

And I don’t really fully understand all of it. And prayer is different for me know.

And most day, this “knowing” brings me great peace.


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