Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t post a request for prayers on my Facebook page. I want to ask them why they don’t solicit something more useful, but of course it is not the proper time or place. I’m not going to enter into a religious debate with someone who is suffering, whether it is because their parent died, their pet died, or their car died. It’s all pain and I don’t want to add to it.
I suppose most people don’t really think that praying is going to have any tangible effect, they just want to know that people care. “I’m praying for you” has been shorthand for “I am sorry for what you’re going through and hope things will get better.” So why don’t we skip the praying part all together?
It might be because by praying the person thinks that they are doing something positive. Perhaps praying absolves them of having to do anything else to help. After all, the person has put the problem in God’s hands, so it’s up to him/her/them to help now. That might make the prayer feel much better, but it does fuck all for the person in pain.
Telling someone you’re praying for them may be a good first step, if they are religious. It means you are thinking of them, even if the actual praying is a waste of time. But you know the cliché, talk is cheap. Instead of just praying, why not do something practical? Sure, not much besides time can help ease the pain of a loved one’s death, but you can still bring them food, send flowers, write a loving note, donate to their favorite charity, take their kids to the zoo or mow the yard.
Don’t bother telling an atheist you’re praying for them when something bad happens. If the prayer knows you’re not religious, it’s basically the same as saying, “I’m going to do something to make myself feel better, too bad about you.” When I’m dealing with bad news just tell me you care and that you’re thinking of me. And bring me a casserole.