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The Pot Roast Principle

Ask questions—even when you think you know the answer.

My best friend in high school was and still is one of the smartest people I know. One of the things that makes her so smart is her ability and willingness to ask questions and challenge assumptions.

She used to tell me a story that I assumed was about her and her family. Turns out it's an old family story, but more like a parable or allegory. Which, come to think of it, proves the point of this post. Don't make assumptions! But as she said when I asked her for confirmation of the tale, truth is created daily.

One day after school a young girl noticed that her mom was cutting off the ends of a pot roast before putting it in the oven to cook for dinner. She had seen her mom do this many times before but had never asked her why. So this time she asked and her mom replied, "I don't know why I cut the ends off, but it’s what my mom always did. Why don't you ask your Grandma?" The mom may have said this because she didn't think she had the time to think about it. Which is always a mistake. We always have time to think. We just think we don’t.

So the young girl called her grandmother on the phone and said, "Grandma why do you cut the ends off the pot roast before cooking it?" Her grandmother replied, "I don't know. That's just the way my mom always cooked it. Why don't you ask her?"

Undeterred, the girl called her great grandmother, who was living in a nursing home and asked her the same question. "Why did you cut the ends off the pot roast before cooking it? (I’m sure she said hello great grandma, how are you, before asking her the question. Being smart is not the same as being rude. In fact, the smartest people are often the kindest and most compassionate.)

And her great grandmother did not reply, “I cut off the ends of the pot roast because that's what my mother did.” And she did not say because it makes the meat juicier. She said, "When I was first married we had a very small oven, and the pot roast didn't fit in the oven unless I cut the ends off."

Whether or not this actually happened, the story still has a point, a truth. Not just about wasted amounts of cheap cuts of beef. The truth is about what happens when we don't ask questions, especially simple questions. When we just make assumptions.

I love this story for many reasons. It reminds me that persistence is a virtue. It reminds me if I don't get an answer right away, keep asking.

It also reminds me that it's not a good idea to do something just because everyone else is doing it. Not that everyone cuts the ends off of pot roast. But don't we sometimes do things without thinking about why we do it? Which a lot more like superstition than rational thought. Don't you think?

I also love this story because of what it tells me about healthcare and prayer. Say what? Some people still assume that health is simply a matter of fixing the body or finding the appropriate drugs.

But study after study in the past several years has shown a different story. Not only is our thinking closely related to our health, but praying is connected to our health and well being. Thinking that our health is merely a physical entity may turn out to make as much sense as cutting the ends off a pot roast.

For example, a book called The Longevity Project studies the connection between health, long life, and spirituality. The author gives examples of research that shows how our thinking has a huge effect on our experience.

And an article from the Harvard Health Publications cites three different studies that show the positive effects of prayer on health. The same article states that “85 percent of physicians polled believed religion and spirituality (including prayer) have a positive influence on health and recovery.”

We live in interesting times. Our views on everything — including the effects of prayer on health — are rapidly changing. And in the case of prayer, or actively turning to God for help, the view seems to be changing back to the way folks used to feel. That God, as it says in Psalms 46 is “a very present help in trouble.”

In our post-Y2K wifi world, where everything goes kablooey if we lose our internet access, maybe we need to start leaning a little bit more on the things we can really rely on. The first step is to figure out what those things are.

In my last post, I talked about the fact that health is more than the absence of disease. In this post, I'd like to posit the view that prayer is more than the "if all else fails" response of someone who has run out of options. And thinking that our health is merely physical may be like cutting the ends off a pot roast.

Here are three questions to ask yourself:

1. Is your idea of prayer more about “please” or more about “thank you”?

2. Do you consider gratitude to be a form of prayer?

3. Are your prayers like tea bags? Do you only use them when you’re in hot water??


How Prayer Leads to Better Health and Longer Life by Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D. HuffPost

See Can Prayer Heal the Sick? by Robert Schmerling M.D.

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