28 December 2018

Do Thoughts and Prayers Make a Difference?

Mr Holdsworth discusses prayers of petition for other people.

His introduction:

There’s been a growing amount of ridicule towards anyone that expresses thoughts and prayers for those who are struggling or suffering. It’s said that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough and that if we aren’t willing to act, we should keep our religious sentiments to ourselves. Now there’s something in the popular version of that criticism that I definitely agree with. What bugs me about thoughts and prayers is that, I suspect, there are a noticeable amount of people hash-tagging the phrase without actually spending any time thinking about or praying for people who might need it. But this doesn’t mean that thoughts and prayers don’t have value, it means that being insincere doesn’t have value. As a religious person, I thought I’d share a bit about my experience of praying for other people because if getting people to act is what you want, sometimes thoughts and prayers is the best place to start. My particular religious persuasion is Catholicism and we Catholics are all about praying. We have all kinds of prayers you can say at all times of the day and so I’ve always felt the need and even pressure to make sure I’m praying as often as I can. At the very least, I try to insist that I pray in the morning before I begin my day, and in the evening before I go to bed. My morning prayers are designed to focus my attention towards the people and things I care about. Because it’s easy to become distracted by our own intentions, our own desires, our own aspirations and then forget about the fact, that everyone around you wants the same things for themselves. My morning prayer follows a standard formula with some variations, and one “section” if you will, is dedicated to praying for people that are struggling, sick, or grieving. My specific prayer for them is that I ask God to bless them, heal them, encourage them, and help them to find hope. Now, if God doesn’t exist, maybe that’s a waste of time and I’m sure there are plenty of people that would hear that and jump to that conclusion, so let me take a second to explain how that process affects me whether God is responding or not. Carving out a portion of your day to deliberately think about other people, their story, their situation, and the suffering that they are experiencing is something that, if you let it, will cause you grief. You will, in some small way, share in their suffering. Now that isn’t to say that you know exactly what they’re going through, because you don’t, but you’re also not ignoring it either, which can be easy to do if you’re far enough removed from it. But when I sit, quietly in a prayerful meditation, I’m trying to understand and, as much as I can, experience their suffering. Somewhat like watching a movie where the characters are going through some struggle. Because you’ve been paying such close attention to their story, you can’t help but experience it along side them. I’ve said this in previous videos, but this is literally what compassion means. It means to suffer with someone. To take their sufferings onto yourself in some way. And the reason compassion is so powerful is because when we experience pain or suffering, we have a natural instinct to want to find a way to make it stop. We’ll either retreat from it or try to find a way to overcome it. So, if you’ve taken someone else’s suffering onto yourself in some way, you’ll likely want to help them retreat from it or overcome it. When you spend a certain amount of time, every day, trying to understand and appreciate the specific suffering of other people, it becomes really difficult to do nothing about it. And for a Catholic like myself, in the context of a conversation with God, it’s really hard to ignore the teachings of Jesus who told us that it’s not enough to say bless you and be on your way. We are called to respond. So if I’m sitting there, in a conversation with the one who has taught those things, I will create a lot of discomfort for myself if I don’t think about some way that I might be able to help. So, assuming that God doesn’t exist, which is a big presupposition, maybe thoughts and prayers don’t do anything in that sense, but if you want people to do something about the suffering they perceive, then it sure is a great way to inspire motivation among the people that do believe in God. Maybe that’s why Catholic organizations are the most significant source of relief and development services around the world which would strongly suggest that authentic thoughts and prayers do make a difference.

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