Recently I heard sad news from someone I know too well to call an acquaintance and not quite well enough to call a good friend. When I heard this news my heart ached, and I wished peace and consolation onto this person. In short, I prayed.
But I couldn’t say that I was praying. Saying “I’ll pray for you” comes with a lot of baggage.
We all know those people for whom “I’ll pray for you” is malicious code for “you are a hot mess right now and need divine intervention” We’ve heard prayer offered as an insult or a manipulation. We’ve seen other people of prayer be publically mean-spirited, giving all of us a bad name.
I’m not sure I know what prayer is. What if someone asked me what I meant when I said I was praying? How would I describe this ineffable offering of another person to the love that runs the universe? And if I used those words, wouldn’t I sound a little bit dotty? I like to rail against throwaway words, and I don’t want expressions of love through prayer to become overused in my own vocabulary.
The truth is, prayer is what I’m doing, often and every day. It has been for a long time, even if I don’t know how to describe it or how it works, even if I worry what it makes me look like. I’m a wacky, open-minded, ambitious, loud-mouthed extrovert, the kind of person in whom deep religious conviction is often seen as surprising. Sometimes it is easier to keep it all under wraps.
Am I being pastoral by not using a term that might give someone the wrong impression, or am I being a coward by not saying what I really believe?I’m torn between wanting to play the game by not using the culturally-loaded term, and wanting to be honest. I’m tired of telling people that they’re in my thoughts when I know that my care for them is much more intense than that.
Do you tell people you’re praying for them? Do you worry about what they will think of you when you do?
I’m very curious to read your thoughts.