We Still Need “Thoughts and Prayers”

In this digital age, whenever sad news is posted or a tragedy happens, we all feel compelled to comment. Typically, we have good intentions to show sympathy or give comfort by letting the person or group know they have an online community with them. But these sad events seem to happen too often, and too often our words of comfort come up short on originality.

This is even more challenging for famous people or politicians – those with a blue checkmark next to their Twitter handle. Not only are they expected to say something, their response must be to the liking of any potential reader. If not, prepare for an onslaught of them getting ripped to shreds for not saying enough, or doing enough, or saying too much, or missing the point, or having the audacity to misspell a word when death is on the line!

So the safest route for a while was to simply play it safe and offer a generic phrase to acknowledge the event and show concern but not risk saying the wrong thing. Thus the phrase “thoughts and prayers” was born. And then it was used by others and repeated and copied/pasted.

Unfortunately, too many tragedies happened. And what do you say this time that’s different than last time but still emphasizes your intent?

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected.

“Oh!? You said that last time and what good did it do???”

Nowadays, “thoughts and prayers” are the low-hanging fruit of a go-to comeback for any critic. (Nevermind how unoriginal it is to repeat overused one-liners to really stick it to that guy you despise on Facebook.)

Personally, I’ve had enough with debates online so I tend to just not say anything unless it’s a funny gif. I’d rather not type a single word for fear of saying the wrong thing from someone else’s perspective. But what’s the alternative for someone who is actually sad? For someone who is actually thinking about the people involved, and might actually be saying a prayer for them? Should the burden be on them to word it in such a way to not trigger the cynic? Or can we all lower our keyboard weapons and let people have their harmless, albeit generic comment?

The logic behind “thoughts and prayers” criticism is reasonable from one vantage point: there are problems in this world that may be fixed if certain action was taken, and by their perspective, simply saying “thoughts and prayers” is equivalent to no action at all. I could make the same argument for ANY digital comment made, including their critique. No comment is considered action unless someone acts on it. So the criticism is really invalid.

Let’s give the benefit of doubt to the the one making the comment and assume they might actually be taking the time to stop and think about the situation, as well as lifting up a prayer for those involved.

What good does it do? I have a few suggestions.

– Sympathy

Of all the people who know me personally, even those who never stepped in a Sunday morning church service, they have always shown appreciation if I pray for them. Whether you believe or not, there is an element of appreciation for someone to be willing to pray on your behalf. Take, for example, you’re in need of a job, and I say, “well, I know the head of a company who’s hiring. I’ll put in a good word.” You’d be delighted. Prayer is the same. I consider it an honor, privilege, and obligation to take the things that concern me and put them at the feet of a higher power.

There are millions of things not on my radar. I don’t care about them, and as a result, I don’t pray about them. If I actually took the time to comment “thoughts and prayers” on a post, I care about it. I really do! If a story has made it’s way through the noise of the rubbish out there to the point someone sees it, thinks about it, and makes a sympathetic comment, they shouldn’t be ridiculed for it.

“Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is”

Rollo May

I suppose we should at least appreciate that there is someone who cares, AND another one who cares enough to criticize. There are probably millions of others who simply do not care enough to do one or the other.

But when you’re the one who’s hurt, a little bit a sympathy goes a long way.

– Motivation

Have you ever had that little voice in your head nagging you to do something? Have you had a passing thought but you keep letting it pass by? Have you had this disturbance in your gut that has nothing to do with food and you can’t shake it?

I had it for a while with broken down cars on the side of the road. I told myself “next time I won’t be in such a rush and will stop and help.” Time flew by and I probably passed by dozens over weeks, always too busy to stop. Finally, the day came where I was on my way home, with no particular plans, and saw a car stuck in the turning lane. I turned my hazard lights on, and as I walked over, a guy from church comes to help, walking from the other side. We laughed about the coincidence and pushed the car out of the way.

I wasn’t super proud of myself for stopping. More than that I wondered if this is an every day task for the other guy. If his heart was just that generous in general and didn’t need months of convincing to do it.

We’re not all the same. Motivation to do good can take time. It took years before I ran out of excuses to volunteer for a youth mentoring program, but I’m glad I finally did. Maybe people who comment on unfortunate news often enough are one by one motivating themselves into future action.

– Power

Kierkegaard said “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” I’m not sure of his context, but I would change it: “prayer is to influence God AND change our nature.” For the one who prays sincerely, they believe there is power in the act of prayer for changes to occur. There are stories upon stories that would seemingly prove the power of prayer, but I suppose all of them could be disregarded as coincidence. There are even statistics I could present to show the effectiveness of prayer with medical patients. But the intent of a prayer is not necessarily to convince the world of it’s effectiveness, but to lift up to God the prayer itself.

Even though movies might represent prayer as a last resort action, many of the strongest people of faith go to prayer as their initial reaction. They’ve had a life full of answered prayers and the best thing they could possibly do for you, is to pray. The best thing I would ask them to do for me, is to pray.

I’ll be the first to preach one of my favorite verses “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” But in the same letter he says “pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

If I could do one thing, and only one thing, I would offer up a prayer. If I truly believe what it is I confess to believe, then I believe God has the power to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, far outweighing anything I could do on my own. And offering “thoughts and prayers”, might be overwhelmingly more than you would ever think is possible.

Steps, not goals

I despise goals. Even though it seems to be the key factor in any “Be Successful!” book or lecture, no matter the topic. A slick public speaker will convince you goals are necessary. Vague yet inspirational quotes will be used against you. Then when a quote is utilized, it’s only to prod you to do the next thing: make goals. But I don’t wanna. I’ll admit this is a preference and some people are inspired and motivated by them.

To me they are far-fetched. Depending on the range, it’s either unrealistic or narrow-minded. I hate the overall concept. Questions like “Where do see yourself in ten years?” Ugh. Nevermind the fact that in any previous ten-year increment, I would have guessed wrong.

(That’s cause you didn’t have goals!)

Touché. But I like where I ended up, so maybe goals would’ve been worse!  D’you ever think about that?

It’s all a speculation to a degree. Seven years ago there’s no way my wife and I would’ve said a second baby is in the future. But here he is. Quite real and 100% without regret or goals. I could have never plotted on a map what my ten years at NASBA would look like. A year or so into my first entry level position, I was determined to end up in Communications or Marketing. Why wouldn’t it? My degree is in Marketing. That’s what they told me would happen in college.

Speaking of college: I had the same anti-goal attitude then. It was half-way through my junior year when my Adviser forced me to make a decision on a major. I enjoyed all kinds of topics and classes. Had any course, professor, or grade been different I might have ended up in Bible, Psychology, Music, Accounting, or Computer Science. My lame (passive, pleaser, indecisive) way of choosing was that Marketing seemed to incorporate any or all of the other topics, depending on how you swing it, so that was it. I will be an Accounting-minded Internet Marketer for the Psychology of Biblical Music. Perfect. Now to make a list of goals to get there.

Well…. not before we up and move to Florida to live on the beach for a while! My real-life proverbial slap in the face at Goals. It ended up being the “best… decision… ever” (quoting my wife just now).

BUT… while I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t just make the impossible happen because of goals, I also can’t sit on the beach and wait for blessings to fall from the sky and land in my lap. I’ve considered this dilemma in regards to wanting to do public speaking. It’s something I’m curious about, but don’t necessarily want to jump all in right now and make that goal happen! So what if I eased into it intentionally on a regular basis? Similar to my mantra about Christian living: you may have a goal to love God and love others, but it means nothing if you don’t actually do it on a day to day basis.

I think of what Dave Ramsey is known most for, the Baby Steps. You could call those goals, but actually the goal is getting out of debt, the baby steps along the way are what gets you there. In the case of Public Speaking, I’m OK if that goal ends up looking different in the end. I fully expect the future to not look like what I could imagine in the present. What I should do is be intentional now.  What is something I can do today? Anything. As long as it’s something.

My current baby steps:

  • My first thought went to my two least favorite hours each day: traffic to and from work. So I started downloading relevant podcasts, lectures, and speeches (just as soon as I’m done with Serial) for my otherwise wasted time.
  • Another actionable task was just to discover what I have to talk about, and ended up being the genesis of this blog.
  • I’m purposefully spending less time on Facebook and more following specific people/brands on Twitter.
  • I’ve put together a list of potential places to speak (Toastmasters, Chamber, Church, Youth Organizations) and have a few lined up.
  • I tried to think any connections I have to professional speakers, reached out to one, and have a meeting pending.

Not goals, but steps. Maybe I’m mincing words here, but it’s obvious to me that I’ve done more in this month than I have in years of simply having theoretical goals. Whatever happens, it will be because I took steps to get there or my direction intentionally veered as I was taking those steps. But either way I won’t be disappointed, at least not because my “goals” weren’t met, weren’t correct, or weren’t attainable. Inaction, laziness, or preoccupation will not be an excuse. I will have taken steps to get there. And in a way, it’s exciting to not know exactly what there is.

My Facebook Hiatus

I’m sure it’s been done dozens of times, but after deciding that I could use a break from Facebook for a few days, I thought I’d write down my personal observations. Most of you fall into two groups: You don’t see the big deal because you haven’t checked Facebook in a few days(weeks) anyway, or you’ve already checked Facebook since clicking on this post.

Nothing dramatic happened that made me consider taking a break, besides simply knowing that I should. Possibly after realizing I checked it for the tenth time before lunch. I don’t check it for long; I don’t sit there scrolling for hours. I think I just hope to see something. Anything. Amusing, insulting, don’t care. Just distract me for a moment. Like a king sitting on his throne, bringing in jesters one at a time. “Entertain me, peasant!” When nothing suits me, closing my browser is the modern-day equivalent of “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”

It was good timing. I had a four-day weekend over Labor Day, and Facebook would be a lame way to spend it. My observations started immediately, then dwindled over time as real life happened in its place.

Friday:

  • Immediately fought the urge to check fb (a true addict)
  • Went to other social media formats within the hour (the equivalent of a former smoker chewing gum)
  • Had to find a place to get the news directly
  • Didn’t know how to contact my wife. (Do I text her? How archaic!)
  • Later, bored sitting next to wife while she checks her fb
  • Wife giving me her fb updates since I can’t see them

Saturday:

  • Online shopping (though I’m too cheap to buy much)
  • Time on my hands
  • Discovered a lack of purpose
  • Started a project, backyard firepit!

Sunday:

  • Lost shared experiences (football game, sharing baby pics)
  • Finished project!

Monday:

  • Realized I didn’t miss much

So like a true snob (or hipster?) I came back to Facebook the next day bored with it. Almost annoyed. At least with myself for knowing that I’ve spent countless hours wasting my life away here. But I’m also not stubborn enough to not realize that it has benefits worth my time. I like sharing life experiences with friends and family I don’t see too often, I just don’t need to watch the video they shared of puppies falling asleep. It’s a prefect place to follow businesses, but not worth the time to try and win a free sticker by following these simple steps, allowing us access to view your page and friends list, and completing this survey, after you Like, Share, and Comment.

And lastly, looking for opportunities to bless other people. This hiatus came right after our church completed a 30-day prayer challenge. I somehow came up with the idea to post a reminder of the day’s prayer topic with a relevant image or verse on the church group wall. I received a surprising number of comments thanking me for the reminder, and how it always started their day off on the right foot. If my time online isn’t a benefit to me or someone else, then what am I doing!? Might as well be working on phase 2 of the Firepit project.