I completely understand.
You’re angry. Furious. You have children, and can only imagine the horror – the absolute, insane horror – of sending them off to a place of learning, where they are meant to be nurtured, and formed, and instead they are killed, the thread of their lives cut, just like that. Or you don’t have children, but remember when you were one, and can’t wrap your mind around the incongruous reality that someone could actually go into a school and shoot with wild abandon, their consciences so charred beyond recognition that they just had no desire to think, they just shot and shot and shot.
And you are so angry. You’re angry because it was Ash Wednesday just yesterday, and here are all of the politicians, those men who were sworn in but who you could swear were bought in, displaying their cross-smears of ashes on their foreheads. They’re on TV, and they’re not talking about anything, they’re trying to make sense of it but trying to keep their constituents, too — trying to walk this sick, impossible line that is really only an illusion because surely you can’t be one thing (smeared with ashes, a Christian!) and be something else — you can’t be someone who does nothing!
And they offer their thoughts and their prayers and just hearing that is like a food grater rubbed inside your mind, scrubbing your brain and you feel like you’re going to break in half with anger, because NOT AGAIN DO NOT SAY THAT JUST DON’T, JUST ANYTHING BUT THAT BUT OF COURSE THAT’S WHAT YOU SAY.
I am not them, I do not speak for them.
I speak as someone who prays.
I understand you. I know exactly where you are, because it makes me angry, too. It infuriates me that in the public mind, prayer is now equivalent to inaction. Indifference.
But prayer is not those things. It was never meant to be. What prayer was originally designed to be, before it became shorthand for “we’re thinking a lot about it until we forget about it”, was communication between man and God. Man, in his humanity and desire for knowledge, communicates to his Creator in order to make sense of the world around him. He desires to know how to live, how to be successful, how to build relationships. He desires to know the origins of things, to learn. He desires unity with the One who built him, the One who knows him better than anyone else ever could, because He has the blueprint.
And because prayer is communication, God answers Man back. He teaches him how to live, how to serve. How to open his mind to learn new things, like science and medicine and what makes things work. How to observe the seasons so he can raise crops. How to move and live and breathe through a world that was once a wonderful place, but had become a shadow of what it used to be because Man takes a long time to learn his lessons. How to seek peace, real, lasting Peace.
It was always meant to be an open line of communication. Man asks of God, God answers in the best interest of Man, because He created Man, and He loves him. But Man doesn’t always like God’s answers, because they’re hard, and Man is selfish, and because it involves pain and sacrifice and the best things for Man involve things that are difficult.
God doesn’t like pain, either. He hates that we have to die. He calls us back to Himself, but He hates that we suffer. He hates the evil that befalls us, that we are constantly drawn to and that we choose. When we lose someone, when we hear constantly of people dying and of their terror, our sorrow is His sorrow.
But God is not a genie. Prayer was always meant to be a channel by which God gives us the ability to carry out His will and live a good, decent life because people can’t do it well on their own. You can be a good, decent human being without believing, in God, sure. You can be a good person and a nice person and help others because it is in your nature and in your best interest to do so. But the difference is that people of faith generally believe that deep down, they’re inadequate – that they lack the ability to love others more than themselves, that they are more selfish than selfless- and so they pray to God, the creator of all good things, for that gift to be more selfless. For the gift to be more giving. For the gift to put themselves aside and put others first more than they do.
To be perfectly honest with you, I need to pray very hard to do those things. I wish it would come naturally to me, but it does not. If I don’t pray, if I don’t keep those lines of communication open and get that grace, that gift, then I am way more selfish. I am so much more callous, so much less decent. I am less good. And I know I’m not alone.
Prayer is communication. It is communication that leads to action. It is something that should be honored as a tradition of people of faith and it should be respected, not denigrated, just because you are angry. Even if you are righteously, rightfully angry.
But make no mistake: there is a difference between prayer and #thoughtsandprayers. #Thoughtsandprayers are just people buying their own hype. Do not listen to it. In the book of James, it says “Faith without works is dead.” We need works.
We need works.
I know you know this.
But for millions of people, prayer is not doing nothing. Prayer is communicating. Prayer is trying to listen – in all of the noise, God! – trying to listen. To know what to do next.
But something needs to happen next.