It took me far too long, but I’ve finally gotten to the point that I don’t hesitate to say (or type), “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
You see, in the last few years, it’s become not only acceptable but somewhat trendy on social media to shame people for saying, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
Most of the people who practice the “thoughts and prayers” shaming say that those who say it are doing nothing more than giving lip-service to the underlying issues in order to make themselves feel better rather than making those who are suffering feel better.
While there is no doubt that some of the folks who say “thoughts and prayers” are doing exactly that, there is no doubt that, much like most things in life, there are a multitude of intents and possibilities going on when folks say it. Categorically assuming that it always is just the one thing that you most see it being is short-sighted and frankly a bit self-centered – not to mention judgmental and uncaring.
The reality is even those who are just saying it as lip-service to the issue might still be making an impact. When we are hurt or go through a traumatic event our human condition sometimes is to close down a bit for the sake of protecting ourselves from further hurt. Obviously, that can be an isolating experience.
Regardless of their motivations for doing it, having folks say their “thoughts and prayers” are with you can put cracks in whatever walls are isolating us and begin to cause us to feel not quite so alone in a world that might be feeling very cruel and even violent (whether physically or emotionally.)
For me, as a Christian minister, it means even more than that.
“Thoughts and prayers” is something I’ve grown up hearing my entire life. It is a very real part of my religious culture.
It’s meaning, for me, runs much deeper than the words themselves might seem to express. When I say something like, “My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those involved in today’s shooting,” it is not with some mystical expectation that the words are magical and can influence a god-figure to step in and correct the horror of the situation. Rather, it is my culturally learned way of expressing my personal love and concern for those impacted by the event.
More than that, it is also my way of promising to do what I can to impact change – in the person’s life and/or about the particular issue.
You see, prayer is not about influencing God or directly changing the impact of a situation to any significant degree. Prayer is about influencing me.
My prayers truly are just lip-service if they do not ultimately move me to action. But, in saying I am praying for a person or situation, I am making a sort of promise to them and to myself. A promise to move beyond an inward turned concern toward outward activity that both helps care for those impacted and helps address the issues that resulted in the hurting in the first place.
So, when you shame me (and others) for saying, “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” you are saying much more about yourself than about me. It’s not necessarily saying anything about you in terms of good or bad as much as it points to the possibility that you may not have all the information about the topic yet.
The funny thing is, information is a bit like prayer. If you do it right, it changes you.