In Defense Of Offering Our 'Thoughts and Prayers'

When terrorists killed 130 people in Paris, the world watched in shock. We took to social media to do the only thing we could – offer our thoughts and prayers. On Instagram alone, more than 70 million people shared their thoughts and prayers for Paris within one day of the attacks. We felt powerless, but we also felt called to show our support.

In the eight months since, there’s been a shift in America. We’ve averaged roughly five mass shootings per week, and not much seems to surprise us anymore. We’re becoming desensitized. Numb. The collective pain and outrage has divided us as we’ve latched onto people and things to blame, and the rift keeps growing. It’s “us against them” mentality, and our differing viewpoints have become things to despise instead of discuss.

After Orlando was ambushed with tragedy, “thoughts and prayers” fatigue had set in for many. The collective response quickly shifted to, “We don’t want your thoughts and prayers, we want action.”

That’s hard to argue. Such a short phrase – “thoughts and prayers” – seems to have served as more of a trigger than a comfort for so many who are outraged. It’s now seen as a throwaway line. An empty gesture. An acknowledgement that something devastating has occurred, but perhaps not devastating enough to warrant change. And the collective response is clear: “Thanks, but no thanks. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

Our thoughts and prayers alone are not enough. But they’re not nothing.

I agree. Our thoughts and prayers alone are not enough. But they’re not nothing.

At its core, prayer allows us to – verbally or non-verbally – share what’s on our hearts. But at the same time, prayer demands that we listen. Prayer demands that we engage. Prayer demands that we see beyond our own vanity and struggles. It causes us to make amends and show grace. Prayer deepens our empathy. It insists we put ourselves in others’ shoes and take on additional pain when we pray with and for our people. (And “our people,” by the way, means all of us. Humanity.)

Prayer drives us to take action. It jolts us and disrupts us, removing us from our comfort zones. Prayer takes us to uncomfortable places – spiritually, physically and emotionally – and asks us to do the hard work of accepting more than one perspective.

As flawed humans just trying to get through the day, we fall short. All the time. We shout to be heard and we forget to listen. And when we are threatened, when we are fearful, when the world deals one tragedy after another, so often we cling to what we know for a sense of security. For a constant we can count on.

The places that used to fill our souls with culture, entertainment, knowledge and faith have each experienced mass casualties at the hands of those who hate us for our differences. We’ve accepted the fact that stepping into a movie theater, school, sporting venue, concert or building of faith might result in death. That’s our world now.

We’re living through a collective nightmare, and our empathy is included in a casualty count that’s already too high.  

Our world feels out of control, so we bolt down what’s “ours” and we protect what’s “ours.”

But we’re called to love, protect and pray for everyone. Our prayers aren’t throwaway gestures. And for many of us, our thoughts and prayers aren’t simply all that we’re willing to give. Our thoughts and prayers are all that we have. They’re our foundation, our everything, and they are needed now, more than ever. They are what propel us to the acts of loving, protecting, serving and understanding others.

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It does not change God – it changes me.” -C.S. Lewis

Hours after five police officers were killed and another seven were wounded, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings asked America to pray.

“Chief (David) Brown told the victims’ families last night and the police officers that he was a man of faith and I am a man of faith, too,” Rawlings said. “And we need prayers and prayer is good.”

When offered a national stage, these men didn’t use that opportunity to politicize or point fingers. They used it to unite a grieving and terrified nation. Each asked for prayers. And something beautiful happened. People of all faiths – and, quite possibly, no faith – came together hours later to show support for our city. And to pray.

Prayer is good. And today, Dallas feels different. The healing has begun.

Action still needs to be taken. Everywhere. Laws need to be revisited. Everywhere. Discussions need to be had. Everywhere. Prayers need to be said. By everyone.

Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. But they’re not nothing.