Monday, May 20, 2013

"Thoughts and Prayers"

Before I get started I need to throw out a disclaimer. This is not targeted at anyone in particular. Please don't take offense if this is relevant to you. Just think about it.

There's something that's been bugging me for a long time. I am always reminded of it during times like this when there is horrible tragedy around us. It's a cliché that sounds harmless and is used by so many in deep emotional sincerity to offer comfort to others during tragedies. Which is why I hate to even go there. But I just can't bite my lip any longer!  It's like fingernails down a chalkboard for me every time I see or hear someone say something along the lines of "my thoughts and prayers go out to them" or "my thoughts and prayers are with you."

AAAahhhh...NOOOOoooo! Don't say it!! It's NOT TRUE!

Stay with me.

Awful things are happening all around us to people we know and those we don't. We think about it. We think about those who are hurting. We feel terrible. We may even empathize with them. We want them to know we care. We want them to know we take a mental break out of our hectic lives to try to feel their pain, to be sad for them.  But our thoughts are not with them.  Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. 

I know first hand - it is comforting to be told people are thinking about you when you are going through a tough time.

"You're in my thoughts."
Yes, thank you.

"I'm thinking about you."
So nice. 

"My thoughts are with you."
Huh? No.

"My thoughts go out to them."
No they don't.

Our act of thinking good thoughts can't bring anyone any comfort. But expressing those thoughts directly to someone who is hurting can ease their pain and show our love. However, it's too easy to just tell someone we are thinking about them. The challenge is to go a step further and express those thoughts with ACTION! Instead of just telling of our empathetic thoughts, what if we mail out a check too? How about we send out an offer to help and follow up? (I say "we," meaning "me too!")

Now for the second part of those phrases that really make me wince - the prayers part. Oh, I cringe.

"Sending prayers your way."
Ummm...don't bother.

"My prayers go out to them."
No they don't.

Call me nuts but those phrases about one person's prayers going to another person or being with them worry me if people really think that's what happens. If you want your prayer to be effective in delivering comfort, than it should be spoken to the one and only, true, powerful, wise, loving God. The God who listens. The God who cares. The God for whom nothing is impossible. The God who gives comfort, and peace, and wisdom. And the prayers offered to Him go to....well.....Him. Not to the people being prayed for.  I'm definitely not splitting hairs here.

"I am asking God to give you peace."

"I will keep praying for God to comfort them."

Praying to God on their behalf is the best thing you can do for those suffering tragedy. God uses those prayers to administer His grace to them.  James 5:16 says, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." James 4:2 says, "You do not have because you do not ask God." Hebrews 4:6 says, "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

You can be a major source of encouragement to others if you let them know that you are praying for them (if that is in fact what you're doing). Better yet, if you have the opportunity, pray together with them!

So just something to think about.

In an attempt to offer comfort to others, do you throw around empty clichés? Do you blow ineffective wishful thoughts out into the universe? Do you send hollow prayers other people's way?


Do your empathetic thoughts lead you into actions of loving sacrifice for others? Are you praying to God on others' behalf and then letting them know?

My hope is that your expressions of love and care are always effective, always based on truth and the loving, powerful, mercy of God.

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