A coworker's father has been very ill for the last few weeks. We decided to send a Mass card with messages of love and prayer to him and his family during this difficult time.
I noticed something interesting. Some of us were writing things like "You and your family are in my prayers." Others wrote "You and your family are in my thoughts."
Given the fact that we work for the Archdiocese, "in my prayers" wasn't a surprise. As I stumbled over more and more "in my thoughts," however, I wondered what that even meant.
In my mind, it's a politically-correct, sterilized way to unload responsibility.
Sympathy cards contain a message of unity ("I'm sorry for your loss") that conveys a sharing of grief. They also contain a message of help ("I'm thinking of you / praying for you").
So what does thinking of someone actually do?
To a person of faith, prayer DOES something. Prayer can cure illness, speed recovery and shorten the suffering of those on their final journey. Prayer can also comfort the family and friends who mourn the suffering of their loved ones. Prayer is an active participation in both the grief AND HOPE of both the person suffering and that person's community.
Thoughts, on the other hand, do nothing. Unless you've got some sort of telekinetic power, thinking about someone means absolutely nothing. You may as well be telling them that you'll be going out to grab a burger later on.
So why say it at all?
When I mentioned this conversation to my friend, Mary, she said that prayer, in her opinion, does nothing. Given her belief that prayer is pointless, substituting "thinking of you" is a more honest approach for someone like her who wants to extend sympathy but not to the point of patronization.
I conceded that her assessment made sense to me, but I wanted to push the idea further. If you want to actively participate in helping the grieving person / family, what will thoughts do?
She responded that the "good vibes" would eventually help the cosmic universe get itself in order. I'm paraphrasing, but that was the idea.
I then wondered if the coworkers who wrote "Thinking of you" instead of "Praying for you" felt the same way. Maybe they did think their thoughts could somehow create "good vibes" that would offset the bad ones (like some sort of karmic see-saw).
If that's the case, I wonder if these folks would contend that there is a higher-power that collects and balances universal energy. Wouldn't that, in effect, be God? So wouldn't thoughts, in effect, be something akin to prayer?
After my conversation with Mary, I asked some of my coworkers what their thought-process was behind it. Many gave similar responses to Mary or simply said "Meh, just seemed like the thing to say."
I just find the entire semantic discussion to be one of political-correctness. No one wants to say "praying for you" because it implies that you believe in God and His ability to help (and only the loonies believe in God anymore). Yet those who say "Thinking of you" are effectually saying that they are somehow demigods who, by the sole power of their meager, fleeting thoughts, are able to effect measurable change in a given situation.
Prayer is admitting that you believe you can ask God to make something happen.
Thought is admitting you believe YOU can make something happen.
To a person of faith, prayer is preferable because prayer means something. To a person who does not necessarily share in religious faith, "thoughts" may be preferable because, as Mary pointed out, "prayers" mean diddly to them.
And she's right. My prayers would likely mean very little to someone who thinks prayer is pointless. Maybe they'd even find my offering of prayer a lazy means to unload responsibility for doing "something useful" like making dinner or babysitting the kids or something.
I've got no real solution. I'm just intrigued by the shift in diction. Whereas it used to be appropriate and expected that folks join together in prayer for those suffering, it's now shirked. In its place is something I don't wholly understand, and I'm trying to. The problem is, it doesn't seem like those using the term fully grasp its context either.
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