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.
10/30/2014 08:58:15 am
It bugs me too, and not just the fact that they're thinking (if they are) instead of praying. What is worse, many who should know better don't seem to know where to direct their prayers, when they pray. For instance, the friends (many are Catholic) of a Catholic University-educated woman who now teaches at a Catholic school wrote online notes of condolence on the occasion of the death of the woman's mother. They included: "Prayers to you!",
10/30/2014 02:27:37 pm
Oh yeah!!! I've definitely seen that. I think that just comes down to the fact that grammar seems to be something woefully neglected in schools.
10/30/2014 09:53:44 am
I agree with you. Since becoming Catholic at Easter Vigil, I have had a few instances where I had to write to someone something similar. And, I hesitated to write anything about prayers, because I still feel like people are judging me for being religious. Or, maybe they aren't religious and will be offended by my prayers. I dunno.
10/30/2014 02:37:40 pm
I can understand that. I've carefully worded my sympathy cards when I knew the person on the receiving end was combative regarding faith.
11/6/2014 09:33:08 am
I agree with what you wrote about this, Gina. I do, however, use "thinking of you" sometimes to mean precisely that--that I am remembering them and their loved one in their time of grief, that I am not forgetting about them and that their loved one is not forgotten, either. Of course, I normally say "praying for you" unless it seems inappropriate for a specific reason.
5/4/2015 05:08:46 am
LOVE the article. I am kind of sick of seeing "sending good vibes your way" REALLY? If you really have that kind of power, I'd prefer money to help pay some bills, honestly. I just read on my FB page of someone wanting "Good thoughts" sent to her son so he could do well on his AP Psych test today??!!! This same kid was JUST confirmed two months ago in the Catholic Faith. They live DIRECTLY across from our parish. HOW ABOUT ACTUAL prayers? My good thoughts for this family would be, how about attending Mass, how about good thoughts about the Lord you promised to follow? How about good thoughts about putting GOD first? I feel better.
2/27/2016 01:42:45 pm
For me, it comes down to a matter of organized religion. I was raised in a Baptist environment, but grew distant in light of the hypocrisy I observed among church goers. Not everyone, but enough to turn me away. Always seemed like gossip and judgment in the guise of prayer and concern, not to mention the sense of moral entitlement without having done something to earn it other than attending a place once a week. I still maintain my relationship with "God" but on my own terms. "My thoughts" do not differ from the meaning of prayers only that I feel dishonest to say I'll pray for you because I feel that signifies that I am on my knees, hands together pleading to a man in a white robe in the clouds to do things for me(not poking fun at religious folk, this is what I grew to believe as a child) as opposed to communing with a higher power for understanding, guidance and to project my life energy in hopes of influencing the universe. I would say I'll keep you in my thoughts when I meditate, to further describe what I intend, but I know how crazy and hippy it sounds.
4/26/2016 11:25:34 pm
When I say "I'll keep you in my thoughts", or some variant, I never think I'm magic or that the Universe ever balances itself based on human thoughts. But that's okay. All my statement about my thoughts do, is make the grieving person feel like they are not alone; that what is affecting them so greatly, is affecting other people too. It doesn't need to be anymore than that. We are social animals and "you are in my thoughts and feelings" is a statement of solidarity, we are on the same team, you are normal to be grieving, I am grieving too.
Leave a Reply.
Top Rated Entries
My Darkest Secret
Do Animals Have Souls?
10 Things a Parent of an SPD Kid Wants to Say
Fun and Easy Lenten Crafts
Blessed Mother as Intercessor
Loss of Life
Women Priests II
Render Unto Caesar
The Godparent Poem
NYT Anti-Catholic Ad
Pages I Stalk
A Woman's Place
Having Left the Altar
Fr. Z @ WDTPRS
These Stone Walls
St. Joseph's Vanguard
Traditional Latin Mass
Truth, Beauty and Goodness
The Way Out There
Written by the Finger of
Little Catholic Bubble
So You're a Church Musician
There and Back Again
Make It - Love It
St. Monica's Bridge