Roger Marolt: Thinking and praying might actually be the best things to do first
Thoughts and prayers get a bad rap these days.
I read a quote from a notable local about climate change and the efficacy of some effort or another being discussed for the possibility of alleviating some contributions to global warming. It was said by him to be “about as effective as are thoughts and prayers at putting an end to gun violence.”
The statement didn’t make me angry nor did it make me sad. It gave me an uneasy feeling, as if it was a call to looking past things important. As a prideful lifelong learner, I have great respect for quiet, contemplative thought. As a spiritual person, I feel a draw toward those same moments in prayer. The intention in each is the same: the seeking of truth. From the secular side, truth is the goal of science. From the religious, God is Truth. In this, at least for me, thoughts and prayers are completely void of contradiction. They are equal and oftentimes the same starting points for action.
I know thoughts and prayers can sound like a cop-out when expressed in reaction to tragedy impending, happening, or during the aftermath. It has become what we say when we don’t know what to say. I get that. I have thought as much when I hear the words expressed. In times of crisis, we want and oftentimes need immediate answers to make sense of misfortune and to create urgent action plans for preventing similar occurrences in the future. The sooner the better.
And yet, during times of serious darkness and doubt, answers and actions are often not readily apparent or appropriate. The lack of immediate access to these, I suppose, may indeed be the defining marks of our lives’ biggest crises. When there is no apparent explanation to alleviate our fears and no actions to sooth our pain, we feel helpless and powerless.
Thank goodness we have thoughts and prayers at times like this. They are a validation of the need for time, an acknowledgment of the enormity of the event. Immediate, uncontemplated reaction almost always feels good but is rarely the correctly prescribed action, be it firing off an email or text that we later regret or launching missiles at a foreign adversary to settle a dispute.
Where do we end up without thinking? What solutions to problems, large and small, do we come up without it? What antidote is there for loneliness other than knowing we are important enough to someone else to be the focus of his or her thoughts? How often in our lives do we end up in situations where we are thinking after the fact, “Wow, I wish I would have taken the time to think this through and done things differently?”
Wait! Give me I minute; I think I do this daily.
As for prayer, even if you do not believe in an all-knowing, omnipresent God, what is the danger of people humbling themselves on behalf of seeking answers with the help of a God that they do believe in? Remember, the goal of the faithful in this exercise of prayer is goodness. When we pray, we desire to do the right thing. When a faithful person says they will pray for you, take it as a deep expression of love. Go with it.
“Thoughts and prayers,” might be getting dumbed down, much the same as has “I love you” by severe overuse. When a minivan full of middle school girls all say “I love you” as they exit the sliding back door on the drop-off after practice everyday, it does not carry the weight of the same words whispered from behind the bride’s veil as the wedding ring is slipped onto her finger any more than “thoughts and prayers” bring a tear to your eye and ache in your heart when someone issues the words in reaction to you missing the bus and lamenting that you will now miss your 8:30 meeting. Even still, isn’t it better that we say these things than not?
In the end, when contemplating monumental crises, thoughts and prayers may actually be the most appropriate things to employ. I’m not sure I want to be part of any action plan that doesn’t begin with one or the other. As with global warming and gun violence, it appears that nothing we have done to date has accomplished much to ameliorate the ominous threats that each poses. What we are doing is not working. If nothing else, thoughts and prayers is likely better then saying, “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be OK.”
Roger Marolt has put thoughts and prayers at the top of his to-do list. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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