When I pray for you, I’m doing the most powerful thing I know…
So when a tragedy strikes, people feel helpless.
It’s something I get to see a little too often as a pastor. There are times I feel completely useless praying for a patient’s healing in the hospital, when all indications are they are going to pass away.
I visited a pastor in the hospital just a few weeks ago. His 7-year-old son was a healthy active boy until late this past summer. As I sat by the boy’s bed, where he lay unresponsive and moaning, his dad tells me how something in the boy’s body began attacking his brain. Out of nowhere. With no obvious cause.
Now this little boy who was playing ball couldn’t even tell his dad what hurt. That father now has him back home as they pray for a miracle, but also wait for what the doctors say is the inevitable.
I’ll be honest. I had no idea what to say, much less what to pray. But praying is what I’ve been doing ever since I left that hospital room, and each time I see the father’s updates on Facebook.
We have a dear family friend right now that’s in the hospital and the diagnosis is so bad, it looks like she’s probably not going to recover. Sure, God can intervene, and sometimes does. But unfortunately (or fortunately), I’m not the one who decides when he does.
So when I’m overwhelmed and unable to fix the problem any other way, I pray. My prayers ask God to intervene, believing that he can, but I do not presume to tell him how or when. And I trust it with him, knowing that the answer to my prayer for my friend may indeed come back as “no.”
And when a national tragedy like a school shooting happens, people feel just as helpless.
They wonder what can be done and look for solutions. Sometimes we look for someone to blame.
One group sincerely believes the answer is simply to do away with the weapon that caused the destruction. That should put an end to it, or at least greatly reduce the amount of deaths.
Another group sincerely believes that’s not the answer at all, that the real issue is mental health, or society, or just plain old fashioned evil.
That second group feels the answer is beyond anything they can fix. So they bow their heads and go to the one person they believe can do something about it.
And when they see someone affected by that tragedy, they offer their thoughts and prayers. Because that’s all they know to do that will make any difference.
Here’s where the problem starts. The first group gets mad, because they believe it is obvious to any thinking person that their answer would fix the problem. They believe the people bowing their heads are just floating a few niceties in lieu of actually taking action. This infuriates the first group, so that they say things like,
“You can keep your hypocritical thoughts and prayers to yourself! Shame on you for not calling for a ban on (insert the name of whichever weapon was used in the slaughter)!”
What’s happened here is group one sets up their solution to the problem as “the one and only solution,” and then shames anyone who dares not agree. And these purists are pretty self-righteous about it, too. Their judgmentalism could make any old school “church lady” proud.
What about me? Am I running to the defense of the thoughts-and-prayers people because I love guns?
Actually, no. I do not own any firearms. Not one. So if one of you reading this decides to break into my house tonight, expect to get clubbed over the head with a baseball bat. But you won’t get shot, at least not by me.
I’ve gone to a gun range a total of one time. Our family was in danger during a foster care case when the parents were involved in millions of dollars in drugs, so I asked a friend to take me shooting. The situation was so serious, even my progressive anti-gun friends said to me in privacy, “Dave, you need to get a gun.”
But I just never felt confident with it, and, eventually, dropped the idea.
As uncomfortable as I am with guns, I grew up in Alabama where I’m pretty sure few people have a problem with them. Southern culture is gun culture, for sure. And with a huge number of firearms in our county, I remember zero school shootings in my area. Also, zero domestic violence shootings that touched our family or personal friends. Nothing.
So while I avoid politics, I can somewhat understand the people who think guns themselves are not the problem. I’m not against common sense restrictions, but I’d be kidding anyone if I said I knew what those are.
But what I do know is terribly wrong is to say people don’t care about a tragedy simply because they do not adopt your particular solution. That is demagoguery and bullying. And the folks shaming the people sending their thoughts and prayers are often the ones who should be ashamed.
I know some of those T&P people personally, and many are really kind folks. They truly don’t know what to do, but I believe if they thought everything would stop by giving up their guns, most would do it.
However, they simply disagree with your solution. And that disagreement doesn’t make them stupid or heartless. It makes them human.
So how about a little kindness and respect for other people’s beliefs from those of you who consider yourselves the bastions of tolerance? When you criticize people for turning to their faith and not your solution, you’re telegraphing your arrogance in a way that embarrasses me for you.
Sure, I’ve been frustrated at people who use pray as a place to hide from responsible action. Trust me, as a pastor I’ve watched quite a few good people do nothing in the face of evil and selfishness. But this is not that. This is an honest difference of opinion between two groups who sincerely believe they are right.
And we all know we’re right…right up to the point someone comes along and proves us wrong. So how about a little humility and kindness? It might be smart down the road…
Just a piece of advice, but you might want to be nice to some of the thoughts-and-prayers folks out there. God forbid that one day the doctor gives you those test results you were hoping never to hear. Or you get that call about your kids in the middle of the night. Or some other overwhelming situation overtakes you that you feel powerless to face alone.
It’s about that time you might just want a few of those prayers for yourself. And I’ll bet you won’t be rushing then to remind me how ineffective #thoughtsandprayers are.
Know that when I pray for you, I’m doing the most powerful, effective thing I know how to do.
So, just in case, here are my thoughts and prayers for you that God protects you from any of those tragedies I mentioned. That’s the very best I’ve got.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.