Thoughts and Prayers

The very phrase sets my teeth on edge: ‘thoughts and prayers’. The cynic in me suspects those of using it of very little thought and probably even less prayer, but then I am reminded that not everyone has the gift of being able to put into words deep feelings of solidarity and often helplessness in the face of others’ suffering. The politician who reacts to news of some disaster by tweeting his ‘thoughts and prayers’ may be trying, however ineptly, to express something important; and who am I to judge his prayer?

There is a difficulty, however, when the prayer element is dismissed as being a cop-out, a mere rhetorical flourish without substance or meaning. Recently, I had the weird experience of reading an absolute parody of what I believe about prayer. It was only when I realised that the writer saw prayer, even intercessory prayer, as something dashed off, requiring no effort or application, that I began to understand. For the writer, prayer was the last thing to be attempted, and it was really only a way of assuring myself that I was doing something — a bit like the rich man St James accuses of wishing the poor man well while doing nothing whatever to help. If my prayer or yours is like that, then of course it is not really prayer at all.

Those who pray, or try to pray, for others know that prayer isn’t an easy option. It means standing with Moses, arms weary with being upheld, or lying in sackcloth and ashes with David, pleading for the life of his son; it means being steadfast with Monica, during the long years of praying for the conversion of Augustine. There are countless examples of prayer in scripture and the lives of the saints that show us what it means to intercede for another. They give us some idea of the effort and application needed. For those of us who have been given the beautiful vocation of a Benedictine, there is a special urgency about this duty of intercession. Every day in the monastery we receive requests for prayer; and every day each member of the community quietly and persistently lays these requests before the Lord, confident that he will hear and answer as he sees best in each case. We can grow weary; we can want to give up; but we are held there by nothing less than the love of God and the knowledge that our inadequacy is as nothing in his sight— even our puny ‘thoughts and prayers’. Be encouraged.


16 thoughts on “Thoughts and Prayers”

  1. For some, sending ‘thoughts and prayers might be quick and glib, but for many of us, it might be heartfelt, well meant and prayers sent.

    I often end emails and letters with ‘hugs and prayers’ particularly to those I hope would appreciate both. As you well know, sometimes it is just not safe to shake hands with others when one has a cold, but what I always want to give is a warm Benedictine ‘holy hug’. Especially to those I have come to love although we have never met except by exchanges by letter, email and the internet.

    I give thanks for those special friendships that I have experienced through that medium.

  2. I went back to church last Sunday after 12 weeks away and after the service a chap came and asked me about cell groups. No reason why he should except he is newish to our parish and we have chatted after services before.
    I told him that he needed to speak to J. I went to fetch her and told her what he wanted. She put her hand to her mouth and said, “Our group has been praying that he would join our group”. As they spoke he told us that during the sermon that day he’d had a strong impression that he should ask about cell groups today.
    Ain’t that good – for all three of us – Prayer works! Amen.

  3. Thank you. To read your dilemma was so heart warming.. and reassuring. I too just KNOW that prayer DOES work .. Please pray for me and my family.. Thank you.

  4. I plead guilty to using the phrase!
    We have each ended emails with “love and prayers”, and I’m wondering what the difference is? 😉

    • I’d say that love is much more than ‘thoughts’, and I only use the phrase ‘love and prayer’ when I write to a fellow believer. The ‘thoughts and prayers’ of politicians sometimes sound strangely, but as I said, who are we to judge the sincerity of the utterer?

      • It’s much more prevalent in the US than in the UK, where prayer is often a bit of a dirty word for politicians. I’ve just tried to write a card to a friend’s son following the death of his mother… and fighting myself not to say that my thoughts and prayers with with him!!!!

  5. I know how you feel, not so with ‘thoughts and prayers’ I often use the words with real true and heartfelt meaning, but what really sets my teeth on edge is ” I’m sorry for your loss” now that drives me mad, it’s a cop out. I know it can be extremely difficult to say with sincerity how you feel for someone who is grieving but a little imagination from the heart goes a long way

    • Trouble is, we aren’t all gifted with imagination, are we, though I genuinely believe most people try. Death is very difficult for most people to approach — many go into ‘panic mode’.

  6. “Thoughts and prayers”, especially in the aftermath of mass shooting violence, has almost become an obscenity in the U.S. Yet, I agree that we should not condemn the ineptitude of some who are not able to articulate a more meaningful, comforting and inspiring response. When we hear this phrase, perhaps we can ask the Holy Spirit for inspiration to voice words that will truly comfort and grace those with God’s love.

  7. It does tend to sound naff, however well intentioned. It can even sound a bit agnostic – like they aren’t quite sure who or what is involved!

    Is it any better to say nothing, though? Most people I pray for, have no idea I’m doing it. Indeed, as some of them are what I’d describe as “devout atheists” they’d quite possibly be quite offended to find out I did.

  8. I’m afraid thoughts and prayers however well intentioned can be somewhat of a cop out. We can’t all do something for everyone that is suffering but I for one find it infuriating when people offer thoughts and prayers about something but then do nothing about it practically. E.g pick up the phone or write to someone suffering. Get involved with local refugee support projects, buy fair trade or organic products, bank with an ethical bank, buy your energy from a renewable energy provider, lobby your MP’s on issues like homelessness, donate to food banks, check on a neighbour, visit an elderly relative etc. If your thoughts and prayers go alongside positive action then they mean something. If they don’t I’m afraid to me they feel like empty words. We are not all perfect and we can’t do everything but we can all do something.

  9. My husband and I have experienced grief repeatedly, having lost most family members, including a sibling who died in the past year. “I’m sorry for your loss” did not feel like a cop out, nor did “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers”.

    Not everyone can bear to hear something imaginative at the time, nor did we benefit from answering well meaning questions intended to show interest. Sometimes the less said the better, whether voiced by a politician or a neighbour, and perhaps at a time of loss best to accept an expression of condolence graciously, trusting the other will indeed keep us in their prayers, however and whatever that means.

    The danger in criticizing a well meaning offering is that it may discourage others from expressing condolences, whether in the form of a one time statement or as a process in accompanying the bereaved over time.

  10. Given the general reluctance to “bring God into it”, I’m inclined to hope that mentioning prayer,however apparently superficially, is a good thing. You never know, it might be the start of a journey for someone!

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