A recent church bulletin listed twelve prayer requests, eleven of which were about physical needs and one a more spiritual request. A few weeks ago one of these requests was my own for our daughter, Susan. While my child will certainly remain in my thoughts and prayers, how long will anyone else keep her in their "thoughts and prayers?"
"Keep him/her/them in your thoughts and prayers." has become one of the most used one-size-fits-all catch phrases in the American idiom:
The current and at least the past two American Presidents have uttered the words -- expressing something "religions" being part of what we expect Presidents to do.
It is the fall back position of almost all sports announcers covering everything from the death of a colleague to beaning of a batter. There seems to be a kind of announcer's mandate say something politically correct to an audience not at the moment the least bit interested in anything beyond being entertained.
In some otherwise forgotten class some now nameless professor pointed out that when we make prayer requests we are really making an announcement. As in, "Aunt Matilda broke her arm. Pray for her arm to heal." God knows all about it already, we're just letting everyone else know there is a need or concern.
Some time back I undertook to take a young missionary pastor from Sri Lanka to various St Louis churches in an effort to spread the word about his ministry (read as: "raise support/money."). In fairness, there are many such men going about our rich American churches looking for aid; so it was not surprising to again and again be left with promises to keep him in "our thoughts and prayers."
As we were leaving one particular church he made a comment that really struck home: "People who say they will pray aren't going to do anything. And people who don't do anything aren't going to pray, either."
So, we say we'll pray for Aunt Matilda. Does Matilda hurt because I need to respond with something beyond thoughts and prayers? Will her arm not heal faster if I help put that gallon of milk into her cart at Pages?
Maybe it's time to start a new colloquialism, something like:
"If this is about someone you know and love, pray; if it is not about someone you know and love, do something; if you can neither pray nor do, find someone else for whom you can pray and/or do."
Too long a mantra to catch on? Until it does, keep Susan in your thoughts and prayers.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.