Monday, June 3, 2013

Thoughts and prayers

Been seeing and hearing this more lately – actually almost every time there is some tragedy people say: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those …”

What exactly does that mean and why do people say it?

While I don’t understand every little bit about the “prayer” part, as a Christian, I do believe (“Lord, Help my unbelief!”) that when I pray, it makes a difference, somewhere, somehow.

This is an integral and important part of most folks’ Christian faith.

Without throwing a verbal wet blanket on anything, what’s the “thoughts” part about?

OK, when I think about people in some sort of need, I often pray for them. I recall many times walking my dog through our pasture in the months following the devastating tornado that hit Joplin in May 2011. I would often come upon bits of paper debris that was blown here. I even posted a collage of sorts of those bits and pieces. I made a sort of promise that every time I saw a bit of debris, I would pray for those people in Joplin. Now how did God answer those prayers? I have no clue. My job was just to be faithful and obedient. 

I get the surface, “politically correct” reason why people say “thoughts and prayers;” it’s non-offensive and inclusive, sort of like saying, “Holidays” instead of “Christmas.” Especially in public situations. Nobody is going to sue Blake Shelton for saying it on national TV. Now if he just said, “We are praying for those people in Moore, Oklahoma, …” some folks might take offense. But adding that one extra little word, gets him off the hook. I’m not picking on Blake, I just heard him say something like this earlier this week on the radio while he was interviewed backstage at the big benefit on NBC. Whether you actually heard him or not, surely you’ve heard people do this.

For those who can’t bring themselves to add the word, “prayer”, what are they thinking? I guess many of them are just trying to be polite and inoffensive and aren’t overthinking their comments (like me!)

But if those people do not share some part of Christian belief about prayer, what do their comments mean? Do thoughts go anywhere? I think about a lot of things everyday. I have a 45-minute one-way commute that gives me plenty of time to think (and pray.) But my thoughts are internal. If I have something I need to expand upon, I’ll call myself and leave a message or dictate a note into my phone so I can remember it and come back to it later.

But if I just thought about say, Moore, OK, what happens? I’m not just being rhetorical here. I am really asking of those folks who do this, what are you thinking and what do you expect to happen? Is it just to make us all feel better? If we stumbled across someone from Moore, we could say, “I was thinking about you.” Now if those thoughts prompt people to remember later to perhaps text $10 to the Red Cross, then those thoughts have accomplished something tangible. And maybe that is enough.

In my church circles people are quick to throw out “I’ll be praying for you.”

I’m not. In our services we are presented with all sorts of prayer needs. Sometimes I don’t pray for any of them. Sometimes I do. But prayer, for me, is personal. And in this sense it has value. I can’t (or don’t) pray about things I don’t care about. I have a list in my phone to remind me of the things I try to pray about everyday. I think I’m batting in the high % of doing that on a regular basis. Obviously I think about those things also.

SIDEBAR: A friend in my Sunday School class had been on dialysis for years. I’ve been praying for him for more than a year or so that I’ve known him. He recently got a kidney transplant and even humorously shared that he “urinated” for the first time in years (I know TMI!) I was happy to have been even a small (but faithful) part of that by praying for him almost every day. Was it my prayer that helped? I guess I don’t think of it that way because partly this isn’t about getting credit or scoring points but also someone else had to die in order for him to get a kidney. But I prayed for him. How it turned out is way above my pay grade!

Back to my original question. If a person without any religious faith says, “My/our thoughts are with you,” do they think something happens? And if so, what? Not being ir-religious here but is there a little “g” thought god out there who takes care of this kind of stuff?

I am reminded of a comment I read last week from Steven King (the horror writer) where he says he does believe in some sort of intelligent design that created all this beautiful stuff we see and encounter. So I’d guess even though I have no idea, what faith (if any) beyond this, Mr. King has, he has some idea (and maybe hope), that there is something else out there.

But back to the many who think, this is all there is.

I’m not trying to start an argument here, I was sitting on the porch Saturday morning, after more big storms and somewhere in the Twitter feed of people I follow, was the phrase “thoughts and prayers” so, of course, I started thinking.

This may start a firestorm of responses on Facebook where all my stuff ends up eventually but maybe there with be some thoughtful responses.

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