by Betsy Hart
Scripps Howard News Service
I can't help but worry that "you're in our prayers" has become the new "have a good day." (By the way, it's usually "our prayers" instead of what would be the more accountable. "my prayers.")
I am not talking here about folks who might say, "wow, I am really going to pray for you on that." I've been the recipient of such genuine love many times. Nor am I suggesting I can always know what's in the heart of someone who says "you're in our prayers." That newscaster or movie star or politician might really go home, get on his knees, and pray for the intended. That's great.
I'm just suggesting that "you're in our prayers" is a phrase that today one often hears uttered too casually. I know this most because, even as a professing Christian, I have to admit I have too often been a casual "utterer" - and I've had to call myself to account on it.
I mean, real prayer means something. It's powerful. At some level we must recognize it as uniquely so or we wouldn't offer it - even casually - as one of the most comforting things we can say to someone else. "Know you're in our discussion group!" just doesn't cut it. "You're in our thoughts" is better, but that's almost always coupled with prayer as in, "you're in our thoughts and prayers."
We want the positive benefits of prayer, which we recognize to be powerful. But we too often, it seems, call it down as perhaps only some sort of magical incantation to ward off evil spirits or something.
Ironically I think we can sometimes, as a culture, show what we recognize as being true by what we treat vainly. So, conversely to the positive connotations of "you're in our prayers," people regularly take the names "God" and "Jesus Christ" in vain in either excitement or more often anger. Yet, no one would think to say, "George Washington!!!" when he's screaming at his computer, or say, "Steve damn it!" when his car has broken down. Because no one believes there is any power in such names, so there is no point in taking them in vain.
And so back to the "prayer" front. I'm not at all sure if the "you're in our prayers" language is more common than it used to be, or if I'm just noticing it more.
What is clear is that we live in an increasingly secular age. Yet when almost anyone is confronted with a person he cares about who is in pain or sadness, no matter what the religious beliefs or practice of either of them _ he believes that the most powerful thing he can say, the thing that will offer by far the most comfort and assurance, is "know that you are in our prayers."
I'm not at all suggesting we stop offering such assurance. I am suggesting that every time we hear that phrase, and especially every time we say it, we really think about it. If we believe that true prayer is really powerful, if we believe it offers assurance or comfort when we promise it to others, then we should be careful to not leave it just as words but to pray and pray rightly for the person for whom the prayer was promised. If we have no intention of genuinely lifting up that person in true prayer, then we have no right to offer such words of comfort - for they are rendered empty.
I also can't help but find it fascinating that a culture that largely disdains God is so used to hearing people, even people on the national stage with no known religious beliefs, so regularly appeal to the power of prayer.
Perhaps it's that we want that power of prayer - but religious or not, we too often don't want what the powerful God behind true prayer requires of us.
can be reached by e-mail at letterstohart(at)comcast.net.