Thoughts and prayers. Sadly it has been a year full of tragedies to which we respond with thoughts and prayers. In fact, the seemingly endless string of horrors and the rote response has led many to grow angry at the phrase. Some have rejected the thoughts and prayers of people that they consider to be a part of the problem, asserting that prayer without action is useless. They have said that the response is hypocritical.
Other, better writers have defended the use of prayer in times when we are faced with unfathomable evil. Prayer is always a good response. Prayer in itself is an action that is good. Sometimes prayer is the only action open to us. So let it be taken as granted here that prayer needs no defense. Offering thoughts and prayer does not preclude a desire for other concrete actions, either.
However, there is one potential problem to the phrase. Saying “thoughts and prayers” does not necessarily equal actual thought nor actual prayer.
There is so much noise in our world today. Whenever a new tragedy happens everyone fells compelled to say their piece and publicly proclaim it from the rooftops. It is the social media age equivalent of rubber necking a car accident. Everyone must slow down and stare. Not because it’s useful or helpful but because we are curious. Because we want to feel part of something. Sometimes we make our mark with a long rant about whatever particular injustice is a piece of the story at hand. Maybe we blurt out “thoughts and prayers.” Which is fine and good. If we actually then lift up those prayers. If it is just a phrase we say to show people that we’re up on the latest current events it’s worse than nothing.
Prayer is raising the mind and heart to God. It is bringing our needs before the Lord. It is asking forgiveness for the ills of the world and begging for help. It isn’t a three word phrase on a computer screen. Saying that you will pray for someone isn’t a prayer. It’s a promise. And if we make that promise then we had better make good on it or all those who sneer at the phrase as worthless are proven right. Prayer requires real intentionality. It requires contemplation and sincerity. It requires a little time and effort.
So whenever we write “thoughts and prayers” we must make sure to follow through. There are several ways we can do this. One method is to immediately stop and say a brief prayer. Whenever someone makes a prayer request to us and we agree to pray for them one simple way to ensure we actually do so is to do it now. Take your fingers from the keyboard, close your eyes, make the sign of the cross and collect your thoughts. Say a Hail Mary, a Memorare, an Our Father, or really think over your request to God and make it to Him in your own words. This moment of prayer may be brief but it is genuine. Another method would be to include in your daily prayers the intentions that have come before you that day. Perhaps write out the intentions you have committed to pray for so that they are included in your times of prayer. Another meaningful gesture might be to fast for an intention, thus making your prayer have a concrete, tangible impact on your day.
Yes, I want to offer thoughts and prayers for this nation and for this poor wounded world. But saying the words doesn’t fulfill that obligation. It is a step on the way. It is acknowledging the need. It is vital to follow through.