Another week. Another tragedy. That has been the refrain many of us have been repeating for a while now. Another week. Another tragedy. Another day. Another news story that we just don’t want to see.
And yet, the news does not stop for us. Life does not stop. As Aaron Burr sings in the musical Hamilton:
“Life doesn’t discriminate
between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway.”
Part of that living, for many of us, includes praying. Or perhaps at least telling people that our “thoughts and prayers” are with them. There has been some recent push-back against that phrase, “thoughts and prayers.” You can look on Twitter or Facebook or turn on the TV to read or hear people saying, “Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough! Somebody needs to do something!” The phrase and the sentiment behind it seems hollow to many people right now.
I think that it rings hollow and false for a few reasons. First, many people are quick to say or type “thoughts and prayers” and do not follow through. Please, if you tell someone that you are going to pray for them or for a situation, do it. If you won’t do it, then don’t say it. No one is going to judge you for not typing it on social media. They really won’t. Second, I think that our concept of “prayer” is often limited. We hear “prayer,” and we think of someone closing their eyes, looking down, hands folded in their lap, speaking silently to God. That can be prayer, but it isn’t the only kind of prayer.
Prayer, at its simplest is a conversation with God. It needs to be a two-way conversation, not just a monologue from us to God. We have to stop and listen. It’s what happens in the listening that is often most transformational. It is in the listening that we realize that God may be calling us to action. As Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki writes in In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer, “Be careful for what you pray, for God may use you in addressing those things for which you pray.”
David Benner in Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer claims that prayer is a way of life. It is not just a thing we do to start or end our days. Benner says that prayer is more than “turning problems over to God . . . it should also include working toward their solution in divine presence and with divine assistance.” In other words, we are called to help answer what prayers we can.
As Jesus taught us to ask God, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If we sincerely pray this prayer, then we must also sincerely do God’s will – even if that means more than “thoughts and prayers.”