Our thoughts and prayers are with those….

Another year of disasters, of earthquakes, floods, fires, shootings, terrorist attacks, deaths in hit-and-runs, teenage suicides, and the endless list of tragedies on the News every night. And again and again the heart-rending public response to these horrible things is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with those” who suffered loss, injury and trauma.

And I understand the “thoughts” part, because I can’t help thinking how awful it must be to be injured for life, or lose someone you’ve loved, or have an entire family torn apart by a senseless killing or by sexual abuse. Some of those things affect me for days. They are deeply saddening.

But I wonder about the “prayers” part, and what’s said in those prayers, and why they’re said, and to whom. Are they prayers to a higher power, or prayers to oneself like, “I just pray that everything will be all right,” or because prayers are the expected communal response, a sort of mantra we repeat as a matter of course when tragedy happens? And are those prayers answered, in whatever form or reason they’re given? Is an answer even expected? And what answer is hoped for?

I find myself wanting to pray too, but I’m not quite sure what to pray for. I pray in sympathy for those suffering, I can’t help that, but what can I pray for that will get an answer, and how do I know it’s the right thing I’m praying for in that situation? Should I ask God to comfort the injured and their families, but comfort in what way? End their grief? Give them hope for the future? Enable them to forgive? Prevent them being overwhelmed with hatred and revenge? Provide a Christian who can counsel them? But can I ask God for any of those things for people who have no interest in him, and no hope of a life beyond this one? Should I actually be praying at all, except to share in the Father’s sorrow that all this has to happen to his children because humanity chose to reject him?

My prayer of late, therefore, veers towards, “I’m so sorry we humans had to go this route; it’s deeply saddening. If you can provide any comfort through me, please do, along with the wisdom and love to know what to say and do, because I don’t have a clue what’s best.” And it seems that most of us share that last part, in not having a clue what’s best, because again and again when tragedy strikes we don’t know what else to say other than the sad mantra of: “Our thoughts and prayers are with those…..”


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