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.
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.
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.
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.