I just read a post on Gifts in the Journey that sparked this (long!) comment in reply. Since I rarely make time anymore to be philosophical, I wanted to share it with the rest of you as well.
As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a Christian family, but because we chose voluntary poverty and chose to live in a 'rough' area, I also grew up where prayer was super practical. Mom and Dad, not knowing where the next meal would come from, praying for food and there would be provision. At the same time, we also grew up surrounded by death and violence. (in the same year--I was 4--our Pastor's grown daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend and my godfather was hit in the head by a kid with a baseball bat and died 6-months later.) So my parents could never give us a simplistic version of faith where God would always make everything better. In fact my Mom often struggled with the idea that as much as she loved the Lord, she didn't trust him to "do her good". Toward the end of her life, while dying of cancer, she got a revelation of God's Father love that really changed her. She wasn't healed, but her joy in the midst of dying was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
Part of what's hard about prayer is that (at least in the Christian version) it's as much a reflection of the relationship as it is about a formula or set of words. There's a reason that Jesus' revolutionary prayer begins with "Our Father". Not "My Father" not "Our Holy Director". It's about community with others and communion in a loving relationship with God. The problem is that when we go through really crappy life events, it's really hard to reconcile that with a loving Father and, and, frankly, the 'gimmee' faith that I've seen in many American churches makes that wresting match all the more confusing. It also makes it harder to find a community where honest struggle is welcomed.
My husband has been wrestling with these sorts of questions for much of our marriage. For three or four years I gave him a string of rah-rah answers, the lines that had been fed to me. In the end, I did a study of the book of Job where I went through and underlined in one color the things I heard him saying, in another color what people from our church told him, and another for what I was saying to him. It seemed like there were three approaches: God IS responsible and I want him to answer (Job/Jrex); God is always good and this bad stuff has happened because you deserve it (Job's three friends/church); and It's a mystery, we just have to trust (Elihu/me). In the end, God did answer Job, but the answer was mostly a non-answer where God basically says, I'm really big and most of what I do is beyond your capacity to execute or even fully understand. Somehow in the end, that glimpse of God's reality is enough that Job says he gets it. I don't fully understand it as an interaction, but it seems like there was something in that to reconnect the relationship enough for Job to return to a trusting relationship.
Again in the NT, Paul comes to the point where he questions why God does what He does and again, it's a non-answer, "Who are you to question God?" I find that one of the really difficult things about the Christian faith: the reality that Why? won't necessarily be answered. Perhaps Who? and What For? might get clarified, but going down the Why? road seems to lead to a lot of despair. There is a lot in the NT about counting suffering as joy and being thankful in all circumstances that I still don't understand. That somehow mixes into the life of prayer and the living of life in a way I don't often see modeled in the States.
For me, I've had enough relational encounters with Jesus/God that I can't walk away from the reality of his existence. Some of the theology/philosophy around who he is can be confusing, but the core of knowing he's real and trusting that somehow, somewhere along the road he'll use all this still feels true.
I found this verse last night in Hosea: "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." As much as Jrex isn't sure about a lot of the Christian faith, he trusts that Jesus died and rose and that heaven is real. Somehow that's been the thin thread that he's held onto and that verse spoke to me about God's attitude toward that. The person who chooses to not completely walk away is someone of great worth to Him. I think of that in your honesty and hope that maybe there's something worthwhile in prayer, there is great worth.