Can prayer succeed where nicotine patches, acupuncture and drugs can’t?

There was an inspiring article in the Telegraph last week, written by a woman, Eileen Fairweather, who finally gave up smoking through the power of prayer. As she herself says, sceptical, scientific types will not believe that prayer was the critical factor; it is only when you have faith you know and see its effects. She also made the point that I have long thought the case, that addictions – in her case to nicotine – are largely spiritual in origin: they mask a deeper emptiness that only God can fill.

In Fairweather’s words, in all her struggles to give up smoking “The one thing I didn’t try was prayer. I was a cradle Catholic but lapsed in my teens. In 2001, I began going to church again. After Mass one day, someone asked me why I had returned, and I answered, ‘I realised I couldn’t do it all on my own’. I had an ostensibly glamorous existence, yet was often fearful, stressed and pained by the religion-shaped hole in my life.”

Fairweather comments: “Some speak of addiction as a disease. But it is mostly spiritual: dis-ease, an imbalance in the soul.” It was on the night of March 21, 2002 that she woke and prayed and “instead of the usual creaking clutter around my poor prayers, came the Voice, clear as a bell. I was told I was safe. “I will make this easy for you. Just tell people I did this.” The miracle had happened; no longer afraid, tense or suffering withdrawal symptoms, she acknowledges “it is God who is helping me.”

The hardest part, the author admits, was testifying to the power of God in front of “cynical agnostics and atheists”. Yet when she did mention the power of prayer in her NHS support group, to her surprise “no one sniggers. Why am I scared that I might be thought of as a ‘God-botherer?’ Prayer has miraculously helped me and these other smokers desperately need support and ideas. How many times over the past decades did I try, on my own, to give up? This time I asked God to help me – and at last I have succeeded.”

Fairweather confesses that although she has kept her side of the bargain, telling those who ask her how she gave up smoking that she was healed by the power of prayer, she still finds it embarrassing to say this in the “metropolitan working world” in which she lives. Most of us would admit to similar cowardice – the fear of being thought unsophisticated or irrational when the subject comes up in worldly circles. But reading this article has put new heart into me. My New Year’s resolution is now this: never to duck the “God experience” in my own life or my own testimony to the power of prayer, when asked or challenged by those outside the faith. This is, after all, how Christianity spread in the first place.

On a related topic, a friend to whom I sent my blog about the abuse of the Liverpool Care Pathway contrasted with my own brother’s experience of a “good death” in a Catholic hospital in Cork, has written to me asking for prayers for a friend of hers, an agnostic now in her 80s, who is planning to end her life when the time comes at the Swiss clinic, Dignitas. So I would ask readers of this blog to pray that this old lady will come to experience the love and peace of God before she dies. Miracles do happen.