Thoughts and Prayers
Thoughts and prayers.
This phrase is one of the most oft-used by Christians in times of crisis when they want to send well-wishes to someone.
Admittedly, I've used it on scores of occasions as I tried to comfort friends, family, and church members, who had endured a loss or were going through a difficult time.
This particular phrase has also become one of the many ancillary targets by thousands of people on social media in the aftermath of the Uvalde, TX school shooting, the supermarket shooting in Brooklyn, and the shooting at a church in California--all within the last month.
I did a quick scroll through Twitter this morning after entering #thoughtsandprayers as a search term, and the results were pretty sobering.
The overwhelming sentiment can be summed up like this: "Stop sending your thoughts and prayers and do something."
This isn't a new criticism. It's one that is lifted up every time there is a mass shooting in the U.S., which sadly is pretty often, or in times of national tragedy, disaster, and the like.
Further, there is this notion that seems to be pervading our culture right now that when it comes to most of the hard issues of our time, Christians don't seem to have anything useful to offer as a solution, so they simply use "thoughts and prayers" as a way of feeling better about themselves.
There's probably some truth in this, but Christians don't have a corner on the market when it comes to not knowing what to say or do in the face of tragedy, but we're definitely the easiest targets.
You see, it seems disingenuous to offer up a seemingly heartfelt phrase when everything else you say or do publicly supports the very people and systems that may have caused the tragedy in the first place.
I'd like to reclaim the phrase "thoughts and prayers," though. And perhaps offer a way forward for Christians who want to use this phrase that is grounded in integrity.
First, I believe that when we fervently offer up our prayers, something mystical happens.
When we open our hearts and our minds to God in times of need, gratitude, or praise, we tap into the energy of the Spirit of God that flows between us and all things. Prayer is powerful because of this. It connects us with God and with others.
Prayer also gives us the opportunity to speak our longings in ways that we may not otherwise have spoken them. And this often leads us to a deeper understanding of what it is we really desire.
Prayer changes us, in other words---if we are willing to listen to our own prayers and be transformed.
Our thoughts and prayers also have the power to move us. I can't tell you how often I have seen people become the answer to their own prayers as they were led to take action, make peace, ask forgiveness and forgive others.
Frederick Buechner once wrote: Go where your best prayers take you.
I love that so much. It calls us to faithfulness because it convicts us to not let our "thoughts and prayers" become an empty platitude. They should move us to take action if we can, to speak out if we must, or simply offer a ministry of presence to those who are hurting.
There are many communities that are hurting right now because of unspeakable gun violence. Your thoughts and prayers are needed, for sure.
But if your thoughts and prayers do not raise you from knees to your feet to go where those prayers are taking you, you might want to think of something else to say.
Or you can decide that from this day on, you will pray with your mind fixed on transformation---first your own, and then the world around you.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.