Yesterday, I talked about how shallow the words “I love you” can be and how evident that shallow love is in the Christian Church. Today, I want to concentrate on more empty words: “I will be, I have been, or I am, praying for you. Now, I realize that some people actually do pray for people after they say those words, (I’ll set aside the reality that prayer doesn’t work) but I have found that most church-going Christians say, “I am praying for you,” and then first, never do, and second, do nothing tangible for the person they are “praying” for, simply because they have already done their part by “praying.” In my experience, it’s a lot like, “I love you,” in the sense that, like I love you, they think by saying “I’m praying for you,” their work is done. I could give you many, many examples, but I’ll just mention a few, because those who have been in the Christian world know what I say is sadly true. Heck, I did it myself and had many Christian friends admit the same. Even if we did pray about it, that would usually be as far as it went. We had done our part, right?
I’m sure that’s what my sister was thinking when she sent me a scathing letter, basically ripping me to shreds and then telling me she loved me and was praying for me. I guess that was a double whammy of empty words! Did she call me and ask me to go have lunch or just hang out, or if I needed anything? No, she turned her back on me—wouldn’t even have me in her home–but I took comfort in the idea that she loved me and was praying for me—right.
When my son was in the ICU, suffering from a brain injury, I sat there, for the most part, alone. When, after having no sleep for two days, I stopped by the school to let the principle (a devout Christian, by the way) know how he was doing. Granted, he hadn’t called to ask, but I thought he would want to know. Finally, he took time to talk with me, and after I told him how things were going, he said, “Well, I’ve been praying for him.” Exhausted, I looked at him, and although I didn’t say anything, I remember thinking, “So that’s what empty words feel like.” I said, “Thank you,” and wanted to vomit.
During that time, after growing weary of “I’m praying for you” comments on my facebook, I posted a quote there: “Praying is like a rocking chair – it’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” You would have thought I had posted that I liked cooking babies and eating them for dinner. The point of the post was to let my Christian friends and family know that we needed more than their words, but they couldn’t hear me; they were too offended. The attacks from Christians, during that trying and scary time, were shocking. My own nephews publically attacked me—saying really hurtful and untrue things to me. It’s still hard to think about, even today. In some ways I think all the defensiveness posted there was born out of guilt, but I also think they didn’t know what to do when their shallow words weren’t comforting to us. Maybe they were nervous that they might have to do something outside of their comfort zone and, of course, Jesus would never endorse such a thing. Sadly, for the Christian, it was my non-Christian friends that cooked dinner for us and cared for us and I will never forget that. And people wonder why I want nothing to do with the Christian community.
My final example happened just a few months ago. I had stopped by my apartment manager’s office (again, another devout Christian) and somehow it came up that my son is permanently disabled by his accident (he has no sense of smell or taste). I told her that we are hoping that medical technology will come up with a way to stimulate the damaged nerves so that they can grow back. She smiled and said, “I’m going to pray for him. I believe god can heal him. …What’s his name again?” There was so much I wanted to say: “You mean you need to know his name otherwise god won’t know who you are talking about, or do you need to know his name so that you can share the request at prayer group so god will know who they are talking about?” I thought about saying, “Oh, I never thought of doing that, I’ll tell his neurologist. He’ll be so relieved, so will my son. Oh, happy day!” I didn’t say any of those things though. I did what most non-believers do when faced with shallow religious ignorance. I said “Thank you,” and walked out, fairly certain she would not pray or even remember my son’s name, for that matter. Some might wonder what I would have wanted her to say. I have thought about that. I guess it would have felt good to hear her say, “Oh I’m so sorry. That must be difficult. I hope he will be okay. Is there anything I can do for him?” Maybe that’s just too intimate for the Christian to say—too real.
So FYI dear Christian, when you say, “I’m praying for you,” to a non-believer, we hear “I’m going to go talk to myself about that later.” We want to see and feel care, not hear it. We’re kind of evidence based. We’re weird like that.