By Lisa M. Hendey | OSV News
In a world where the 24/7 news cycle offers a ceaseless tide of disasters, a natural Christian inclination has become a polarizing catchphrase. Whether the news is yet another senseless mass shooting, a disastrous act of nature, or the illness of a loved one, there’s a one-size-fits-all, yet real, response: prayer.
Unfortunately, our urge to send our “thoughts and prayers” over social media is such a common and reflexive response that it has become devalued in the eyes of many. Wikipedia even has a “Thoughts and Prayers” entry, tracking times when the words have been offered seemingly in place of actual assistance or intentional corrective action.
Meant as a consolation, the words “thoughts and prayers” are often seen as a senseless murmur offered in place of greatly needed societal change.
I’m guilty of being quick to send “thoughts and prayers” in my timelines. The phrase is such a part of my lexicon that it’s become predictive text in my smartphone. I use it nearly every day on social media feeds, where the needs of others seem to rise to the top of my algorithm, like a strangely theological cream. The needs of friends feel omnipresent. Helpless to assist otherwise, I offer “thoughts and prayers,” hoping to convey my nearness, even when I am far away.
But in my haste to be compassionate, I’m too often guilty of typing these words thoughtlessly and moving along without stopping to truly pray. Lately, I’m challenging myself to do something more than clicking the prayer emoji when I’m met with the suffering of others.
But I haven’t given up on “thoughts and prayers.” Being on the receiving end of hundreds of such offerings following my recent cancer diagnosis has convinced me that the message matters. When I began to share my news publicly, hundreds of digital “thoughts and prayers” came my way, and they made all the difference in the world.
“Thoughts and prayers” came to me through social media and filled my email inbox. My mailbox overflowed with cards and letters carrying thoughts and prayers into our home. My phone blew up with thoughtful and prayerful calls and texts. “Thoughts and prayers” have buoyed me in moments of pain and fear, wrapping me in a blanket of love when I truly needed to be surrounded by support and to feel God’s presence.
Experiencing illness can be an exercise in extreme isolation. Meaning to let someone rest undisturbed, we may forget that our presence to others, even in writing, is an irreplaceable balm. In his 1999 Message to the Young People of Israel and Palestine, St. John Paul II wrote, “None of us is alone in this world. Each of us is a vital piece of the great mosaic of humanity as a whole.” As hours ran into days and weeks during my recovery, I reread many thoughtful lines sent my way during my surgery. Too weak to reply, I had the very real sense of a flock of loved ones not only thinking of me but also being emotionally and spiritually present to me. I was reminded that I do not face this challenge alone.
Prayers are even more precious. I will likely never have a chance to thank everyone who has prayed for me, but their thoughts, their prayers have blessed me when I was too infirm to pray for myself.
Priest friends have offered their Masses on my behalf. Loved ones have included me in the intercessory prayers at their churches and put me on scores of prayer lists. One very dear friend regularly sends me cards from the chapel where she remembers me at her weekly hour of Eucharistic adoration. I have received spiritual bouquets full of rosaries and novenas. Friends have invoked the intercession of powerful saints, sending me relics, holy cards and blessed oils. Especially precious to me are the handmade cards, letters and works of art I’ve received from schoolchildren. Their tender thoughts and prayers carry my needs immediately to the God who loves us so greatly.
Being on the receiving end of “thoughts and prayers” has convinced me of their good. I will continue, in my way, to offer thoughts and prayers. But I also will challenge myself to make real, small-but-concrete acts of love when I do, and to trust in the fullness of God’s perfect plan.
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Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com, a bestselling author and an international speaker. “Senior Standing” appears monthly at OSV News.