I’m Praying for You…
Today I learned a little lesson.
Telling a known non-believer “I’m praying for you,” no matter how sweetly or sincerely, is insulting.
What? How could they be insulted? Aren’t we doing a “nice thing?”
“Nice” in whose opinion?
A well-meaning acquaintance has taken to posting daily on Facebook about the minutiae of her life. It’s her version of blogging. Her 827 friends see her posts, and a good half dozen or so comment with encouragement or support. Just enough approbation to keep her writing. A big theme in most of her closing statement is to be kind to others. Sometimes in the process she does tend to tout her own horn about how kind and wonderful she is. Most, like me, find ourselves cringing a little at the well-meaning but sometimes self-serving or crossing-the-line commentaries, with undercurrents of not-so-kind statements. Once, she posted a fervent “prayer request” for a “dear friend” battling a deadly cancer, who would remain nameless, who had exactly 2 children in grades 3 and 5, and a husband involved in xyz at church– oh, she was truly “in the know.” By the time she was done describing the family, few people had a question who she was talking about. The father and mother in this family were very private, and had been seeking to protect their young children from the details of the sad news. When gently told of the family’s desire for privacy, and the unintentional backlash of her descriptive “prayer request,” my Facebook Prayer Warrior was crushed that her motives could be suspect or criticized.
(In the south, a close insincere second to “I’m praying for you” is the very passive aggressive, “Bless her heart, but…” which is thought to negate the hateful or gossipy nature of whatever you say next).
Sigh… She’s done it again. My acquaintance identifies as Christian. She is clear about how her church and Christian values are important to her. She is usually a very giving and loving person. She makes herculean efforts to involve her grandchildren in church, despite their parents’ non-religious leanings. I don’t blame her for trying, as long as it’s honest and with their consent. But then she posts her efforts to all her 800+ friends, and tags the grandchildren’s parents. Today in her daily FB “blog” she made a strong political commentary akin to “get over it and let’s all move on…” and then went on in the same post to ask for prayers for an upcoming family wedding, indicating that it sure doesn’t hurt to ask for God’s blessing to strengthen this couple’s marriage. Oh, and she tagged the bride and groom. Who, apparently took issue with not only being tagged, but her political statement AND her call for prayer for them. The response was terse and straightforward from the liberal, Anti-Trump, non-religious, and “we-see-through-you” couple. “We prefer if people NOT pray but instead take action against this evil administration, and support our marriage with gifts to ACLU… etc.” It was one of the most high-brow, socially conscious slap downs I think I’ve ever seen.
Can you say strike three, you’re out? She’s batting zero on the Christian witness averages.
I know my FB-blogging friend will be devastated. I know that she’ll be angry and remorseful at the wedge that’s now been (publically) driven between her and a family member; she’ll be wounded that her motives were suspect or seen as less than Christian. She’ll never see how she jabbed the red-hot poker of “prayer” at an angry, agnostic, and liberal tiger, and possibly ruined any chance for reconciliation, much less relationship.
If I could, I’d want to give her advice. And in so doing, I’d be giving myself the same advice. No doubt I’ve hurled a few of these “I’ll pray for you” bombs myself.
As a Christian, prayer is what we DO. We do it anytime and any way we want to… but if we truly are following Christ’s example, we don’t use it as a weapon or a club. OK, yes, scripture does tell us that the Word of God is our Sword in the assorted armor of God, to be used to stand firm, to protect us against attacks, against evil–Ephesians 6). It’s sharper than any double-edged sword, because we can use it in our own lives to cut through the crap and judge the thoughts and attitudes of OUR hearts (Hebrews 4). We don’t use weapons to defend, win, or gain people to Christ (sorry, Crusaders), we can only offer them the weapons to use in their own defense.
The coolest thing about prayer though, is that we may do it secretly.
PRAY IN SECRET.
Our prayers aren’t heard by God in accordance to their volume, their length, their flowery phrases, or how many likes on Facebook. It’s all in the motives. Sometimes we don’t know how to pray, and God gives us a Spirit who can help us, even using groans that words cannot express (this latest election has elicited quite a few groaning prayers). We can think prayer. And, there are certainly times when we’re also called to pray together. Not AT. Not publically FOR unwilling prayees.
The Bible tells us that Jesus prayed in private frequently. He told his disciples, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners (and on Face Book, and in Sunday School “prayer requests”) to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe in the power of prayer. I covet other’s prayers and feel blessed that people will pray for me. I am happy and honored to pray for anyone who asks me, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop praying. I believe that God outrageously loves us, and is in our corner, in spite of the evidence some want to use against this belief. I am forever grateful for that gift my mother gave me from childhood, which has endured through many a faith crisis, multiple denominations, rejected dogmas, Bible Studies, disappointing Pastors and church leaders, insincere church people, and all manner of imperfect man-made religious junk.
Many is the time among fellow Christian believers that I’ve been asked to pray, or someone’s expressed concerns. I’ve uttered the “I’ll be praying for you,” parting shot, and meant it in all sincerity. Often I forget. Lately, I’ve adopted a different response. I asked the fellow-believing person permission, right there and then, in our one-on-one setting, if I could pray for them NOW. I make it short and sweet, I acknowledge in my prayer that God knows the details, I affirm how much He loves my friend, and I ask that He bring my friend strength, resolution, and peace, within His Will. Thy will be done. Amen.
I’m praying for you could be the most insulting and loaded comment you could ever utter to someone, and especially a non-believer, and especially in this emotionally charged culture. I’ve heard some feel it is very passive-aggressive, especially if that person has been clear about their non-belief. And to ask others to publicly pray for someone, without the permission of the person, and perhaps in defiance of their views, well, that just about scrapes the bottom of the barrel.
Most of us really don’t mean anything bad by it, and most of you don’t take insult. We all mean well. Well, most of us, maybe.
If you know me, and especially if I love you, I don’t even have to tell you that I pray for you–because that’s what I do for people I care about, secretly. I just need to do a better job of it for the ones I don’t care so much for, the ones I disagree with. I need to pray for everyone.
And it’s OK if you never know it.