Dilemmas: Should I say a little prayer?

She's been depressed for years and tried everything. Nothing works. Now Cherry has been recommended prayer by a friend. But how does she do it?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

I'm not, perhaps, the best person to ask about prayer, since I don't go to church, and don't wear a dog-collar, and have absolutely no idea whether God exists or not (well, I think probably not, but I have a fairly strong conviction, if such a wet liberal idea can be called a firm conviction, that there is some kind of energy source that binds us all together). And as for praying, yes, I've tried it, and thought about it and still sometimes give it a go because it does seem to me a thoroughly sensible thing to do when all else fails. Why? Because it can only do good. It's completely free, and the idea is to trust some other entity, whatever that entity may be in one's mind or heart, with one's problems.

Now whether Cherry has to fall on her knees or not is surely up to her. Personally I always feel a total prat, alone on my knees. But the idea is to make one feel vulnerable and perhaps being on one's knees is rather like being a cat rolling over on to its back. It's a trusting kind of position, and the position itself may engender trust. So any position that engenders trust is probably OK, but not absolutely necessary.

To whom does Cherry pray? She can pray to a God, or to a vague thingy, or to whatever makes her feel most comfortable, either without or within. Without can feel a bit like crying in the wilderness; within is a probably more comforting spot. And to pray to the God within yourself is probably more healing, and you're more likely to feel an answer. And when to pray? There's a reason why we're meant to pray at night. It's because we're tired, we're more open to suggestion; and personally, I think a lot of the results of prayer are due to a kind of self-hypnosis. (Of course, if you believe in God, that theory still works, since there's no difference between self and God.) Then it's probably a good idea to pray just when you wake up, too.

And what should Cherry pray for? She's depressed, and nothing she has tried has helped her. To ask for relief from her depression is a plea as likely to be answered as the request to win the Lottery. No, what she must ask for is the strength to bear her depression with fortitude. No one should ever ask for anything specific, like getting a job, passing an exam or asking for a husband to return. Instead, always ask for the strength to deal with disaster, if it comes. Then Cherry could offer up her troubles to God (or thingy, etc) as a gift. She should say: "I'm giving this utter gloom to you to deal with."

Of course, this hardly seems like a present. It is worse by far than a marble egg, a ceramic mirror or a mug from the National Trust. But I'm pretty sure that God (or thingy) is delighted with the gift of gloom. In His (or his, or hers, or its) hands, depression becomes a rare treasure.

And finally, if Cherry is going to pray, she should keep it up for a few months at least. The line to God is, if you're a non-believer, pretty long-distance. It can take some time to get through. And she may never get through. And there may be no through to get. The answer may be: "The number you have dialled is unavailable. Please check and try again." Even so, prayer has helped people for centuries; it's certainly worth a crack.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

Stop yearning for happiness

In order to be able to pray, there must first exist a belief in someone, or something, to whom to address the prayer. Could I do so, I would certainly choose to believe in an all powerful, benign deity, promising love, spiritual fulfilment and an afterlife, but being of sound rational mind, there is no question of choice. God is no more manifest to me than the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.

It is true that much unhappiness arises from a vague, but enveloping, disappointment that "existence is all there is and death is final", which in turn can lead to feelings of pointlessness and futility. However, I have found that contemplation and a fundamental acceptance of this, together with a conscious decision to stop yearning and searching, is itself a liberation and even a comfort. "Happiness" is an unstable, elusive, endlessly relative concept and will often be attained only when not actively sought.

VANDA McEVOY

Birkenhead

God will answer your prayers

Prayer is never a waste of time; I know this from experience. Be prepared, though. Though God will always answer your prayers, He will not necessarily do so when and how you expect. Your friend who said prayer was your last option was wrong: it should be your first option. How to pray? It really doesn't matter. It helps to be quiet, so you are not distracted, but there is no need to kneel, be in church or even to talk aloud. Just say "Please God, help me. I'm terribly unhappy", and in your own words tell God why. And God will help you, unconditionally.

J MICHAEL SHARMAN

Rufforth

York

It's simple - and free

You are going through "the dark night of the soul" and it's hell. I had a similar life crisis. Not having ever prayed, I lit a candle, got down on my knees, recited the Lord's Prayer (remembered from school assembly), and begged for release from the pain and unhappiness I was going through. Tears flowed, and I felt a warm and loving presence around me. That awful knot of fear and anxiety that depression binds you with suddenly dissolved and I felt renewed and strengthened. I have been able to tap into that strength ever since, and my outlook on life has changed. It's worth a try - it's simple and free and I hope it works for you. Good luck!

CLARE CAMERON

Others will pray for you

"You may not believe in God, but God believes in you," as the vicar said to a woman hesitant about becoming a Godmother. It may be easier to pray if you do believe in God. In this pseudo-rational age, many who mock prayer pray in their hearts. People have prayed for uncountable years, and still do. Anyone can pray. In a time of great unhappiness and confusion myself, I experienced a powerful and sustaining sense of being prayed for, so it comes naturally for me to pray for others. Your letter itself utters a prayer and many who read it will pray for you in that moment, as I do.

MARGARET BONFIGLIOLI

Cassington

Oxford

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I'm only in my forties, so hardly ancient, but I work in an open-plan office next to a company where everyone swears all the time, and it really upsets me. Two other women of my age also find it horrible to hear young men yelling "Fuck!" and "Shit!". They're loosely connected with our company, but run by a different boss, so I can't complain. With walls, we wouldn't hear them. What do we do?

Yours sincerely, Julie

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail dilemmas @independent .co.uk. Please give a postal address for a bouquet

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?