There’s a phrase frequently heard in the aftermath of a tragedy, especially after a huge disaster like a massive hurricane, extensive flooding, or a mass shooting. We hear people say their “thoughts and prayers are with the people of…” and fill in the blank identifying those who are suffering. We hear it from television announcers, politicians, and almost everyone making any type of public remarks. It might be one of the dumbest things a person can say.
What exactly does it mean? I understand the “prayers” part. I’m all for praying for people in the midst of a storm. Personally, I have always been encouraged when people tell me that they are praying for me. I take them at their word. I’m a firm believer in prayer, and I try to remember to pray for those I know who are suffering. It is a good thing to tell people they are in our prayers.
However, what possible good does it do for someone to say to a suffering individual that my “thoughts” are with you? Huh? Ok, so what? Am I supposed to find comfort that in the midst of my suffering you are at least thinking about me?
Sometimes if a friend tells me he is going to a baseball game, I might say, “I’ll be thinking about you.” What I really mean is that I’m envious and wish I was going and I want him to know how fortunate he is to be at the game. He’s not going to have a better experience at a baseball game because I was thinking about him. I might even ask him where he’s sitting so I can catch a glimpse of him on television, but again, that’s not going to benefit him in any way.
If my house washed away in a flood or was blown away by a tornado, your thoughts are not very helpful. If a friend or family member was killed by a sniper, knowing that you are thinking about me does not provide a great deal of comfort. For some reason, we take great pride in telling suffering people they are in our thoughts and prayers.
I have an idea where this came from. Many people who don’t pray or believe that prayer makes any difference are not going to say, “I’m praying for you.” Why would they? But, they want to communicate something, so they offer nothing—their thoughts. For many people, thoughts are equally as effective as prayer. Now it has become the accepted response. The phrase allows everyone to say something and feel like they are contributing. “My thoughts and prayers are with you (even though I don’t believe either one is helpful).” So, those who believe in prayer and those who don’t believe in prayer can feel better about themselves.
I’m somewhat perplexed when anyone uses the phrase, but it is especially disconcerting when it is used by someone who has the ability to do more than offer “thoughts and prayers.” For example, to hear a politician send out “thoughts and prayers” to families of the victims of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas is not the least bit helpful when they have it in their power to do so much more. How about working to pass some laws or devise some better circumstances where this type of thing doesn’t happen again?
Or, the President telling the people of Puerto Rico that his “thoughts and prayers” are with them and then does very little to alleviate the actual suffering. I think if I were in Puerto Rico I would suggest he keep his thoughts to himself and send some real help.
Or, what about the NRA member who sends “thoughts and prayers” to those suffering in Las Vegas and then sends his membership dues to the NRA?
If you believe in prayer, when there are people in need, get on your knees in prayer. If you don’t believe in prayer, get off your butt and do something else that is helpful. Write a check, grab a carload of supplies and go help, lobby your Senator or Representative to do something. I hate to tell you this, but your thoughts are not really helpful to anyone if that is all they are—thoughts.