“Thoughts and Prayers”….Do They Really Matter?

“My / our thoughts and prayers are with you…..”

Any time we see tragedy or hardship breaking out or being shared on social media, we are sure to see this very common reply pop up in response. It’s a nice sentiment, and seems to be today’s catch-all when one feels compelled to leave a comment but doesn’t quite know what to say, or perhaps doesn’t have anything more intimate to offer in consolation. But does mere sentiment count? Does it even matter that one would offer this (either casually or with real sincerity) for words of consolation?

After the most recent school-shooting in Parkland, Florida (at the time of this writing), this response (either in its written form on social media, or spoken by officials and commentators) has come under fierce fire. As quickly as “my / our thoughts and prayers….” can be uttered or typed, we find and hear in angry retort how utterly meaningless those “thoughts and prayers” are, how they don’t do anything to alleviate suffering, nor offer any real solutions to the problems at hand (or their root causes). So much of the disdain seems ill-placed or misdirected, being a product of a growing disregard of God and distaste for his following. But, I don’t think all of the criticism is improperly stated or rooted in the falling-away. Frankly, I think a good bit of it is actually well-deserved.

Why? Well, because far too often, writing or saying “my / our thoughts and prayers….” is nothing but a knee-jerk response of empty rhetoric. While it could be suggested that sending some “feel good vibes” counts for at least something, I would disagree. Most see it for what it (sadly) often is: the “empty rhetoric” I’ve just mentioned. What would make a difference is if the recipient were assured that someone actually did have them in their “thoughts and prayers”. He or she would know that they didn’t have to bear through hardship or tragedy alone, that folks had him / her in their thoughts, were praying to God for them, and were indeed walking along with them through the shadows…for however long or short of a time.

Let folks know you are thinking of them. Let them know they aren’t alone, and that you are praying for them. But, don’t put off the thought or prayer. Take a moment after you are done typing out your reply to truly say prayer, however small. Think of God’s grace filling them, think of Him offering comfort and strength…think of that person in their suffering, and perhaps offer up an additional prayer that their pain be given to God. Turn your sentiment into action- make it a point to do so every time, and it soon becomes second nature. Following the response with an actual prayer / reflection will be incorporated into your thought patterns, and become a reflexive action, not mere words.

Speaking of actions, I would agree (at least in part) with those who are critical of “sending thoughts and prayers”, where they cite a lack of / need for action in particular circumstances. Is there something to which we can set our hand in assistance or in impacting some change of course or policy? Is there something we can do that lightens the burden of our Brothers and Sisters, that helps to build toward a better society, or for those positive changes that set a course away from darkness and chaos, and toward light and peace?

Sometimes, we need to be willing to take the opportunity to not only pray and reflect, but to act. In other times, all we can do is pray and reflect (and that itself, is an act when carried through, beyond the sharing of empty words and “feel good vibes”). Do thoughts and prayers really matter? Yes, as an action, they most certainly do.

Your Sons Are Watching You.

A week or so ago (as I am writing this), I was driving in the car with my sons- the eldest is ten, the youngest is a mere toddler. I was exhausted from a preceding difficult week and a lack of sleep (thanks to back discomfort- old injuries reminding themselves that they are still with me). Needless to say, I was a little more on the grumpier side than usual, and was quicker to impatience with a few instances of careless drivers. Instead of using the opportunity to exercise charity and reserve, I was annoyed and grumbly to put it mildly. While I wasn’t screaming and flipping anyone off, I mumbled less-than-charitable thoughts to myself in the circumstances that arose -or so I thought (to myself), anyway.

A few days passed, and in talking with my wife, she made mention of my mumblings. As it turned out, the utterances that I thought were between “me, myself, and I” were in truth overheard by my eldest (who, after all was sitting right next to me), and he had spoken of it to her in the course of passing conversation. I was embarrassed- she and I had a brief discussion about it, which closed with her words that I used in the title of this post: “(don’t forget), your sons are watching you”.

We are all human, we are all fallen by nature, and no matter how straight the course for which we strike, we are going to veer, stumble, or fall down a time or many. None of us are perfect, nor will we ever be in this waking world. On that same note, we can never be Christ, but should always strive to be Christ-like. It doesn’t matter how often we veer, stumble, or mess up. What matters is that we keep trying, that we keep moving forward.

Your sons are watching you.

So too, are your daughters. Your children are watching and learning from your example. While we may have our less-than-spectacular moments in life, we should always try to keep that fact in mind, to let it be among our guiding thoughts. We need to be as best an example of what it means to be a Catholic man / father / husband as we are able to be. There is plenty out there to tempt our children away from their Catholic foundation, to set lower bars of expectation, and to form the groundworks of base behaviors and behavior patterns. We need to be the light in the darkness, to be a shining -Catholic- example to which our children can aspire. Can we expect a sense of charity and caring for our fellow man (friend and foe alike) to awaken and live within them if it’s not what we ourselves are demonstrating in their company? Can we really expect them to put any stock in even being a Catholic (over the long haul of years) if we aren’t living out the joy of our faith and resting in its strength? Talk is cheap. The proof is in the deed, in how we actually conduct our lives. We must always do our best to be the Catholic role model(s) on which the standards of our children are founded. We need to be a “constant” and actively lead our children to Christ in living example, through not only our actions but also in the manner of our expression(s). We can’t expect them to cleave to that which we seemingly do not adhere ourselves. Always remember: your sons (and daughters!) are watching you.