I’ll Pray for You

Something a little less controversial is on the menu today.

Fellow blogger, Lisa Morguess, recently wrote about the people you and I encounter in our lives who say, “I’ll pray for you.” (Thanks for sharing this, Lisa!)

Her take is that, if a believer wants to pray for someone, well, that’s fine. Go ahead and do it, but don’t publicize your intentions. If praying works, then it will work regardless of whether the believer makes his noble act known. To tell someone who doesn’t believe that you’re going to pray for him anyway, can be offensive to nonbelievers. It’s basically saying that I discount your views. I’m going to do what I think is best for you.

I get that. And I agree. There are some folks that think we (nonbelievers) just don’t know any better. We need to be saved. But I also think that some folks just say, “I’ll pray for you” in the same way that they say “bless you” when a person sneezes. They want to make a human connection, to tell people that they care, to tell people that they are concerned for them. It’s a verbal hug of sorts, and it’s connecting in much the same way as smiling at a stranger or shaking a hand.

I think that some believers just don’t have the awareness or language to use in certain situations. They’ve been taught or conditioned that, when in distress, to say “I’ll pray for you.” What they really mean is, “I’m thinking about you, even though I’m without the power to help. (But I’ll ask my master for assistance.)”  Nonbelievers, while not new, are relatively new on our nation’s stage. Our primarily Christian citizens aren’t used to us speaking up or demanding a part in their morality play.

Perhaps we can help our religious friends and neighbors get there by saying things like, “I don’t believe in God, but I appreciate your kind thoughts.” Or, “Thank you for thinking of me.” To confront them would cause disharmony. On the other hand, to accept this religious hug encourages good will between two groups of people who are now at odds. We’re not saying, I need your prayers; we’re only saying, I recognize your intentions.

When a dear friend, who knows I’m agnostic, told me she was praying for me through difficult times, I told her I appreciated her concern and her good intentions. Her prayers don’t hurt (or help) me. But they made her feel like she was doing something useful, and she was letting me know that she cares for me in the way she’s been trained for 40 years. I imagine that, had I told her not to pray for me, I would have hurt her feelings.

This is my approach, which is not right for everyone. I find group-think very valuable in presenting many options. How do you handle experiences like this when someone offers to pray for you? How would you tell your children to handle this?


134 responses to “I’ll Pray for You

  1. I agree with you, and feel the exact same way. For some people, it’s their way of genuinely telling you they care and that they’re thinking about you, hoping for the best when it’s not in their power to do any more. We have a couple of friends who will use that expression, and I just smile and thank them for the kind words. We can talk philosophy another time.

    Street preachers who use it after I say I’m an atheist, on the other hand …

  2. Funny you should post this. I recently had a customer call me a devil worshipper for interrupting his rant to me about honoring thy mother and father. I told him I was not religious and basically wanted to get back to the issue at hand which was concerning his electric bill. :p His response was – “I knew you were agnostic when you answered the phone. That’s okay. God still loves devil worshippers.” I didn’t even bother educating him on the fact that an agnostic is not a devil worshipper. He ended the call by saying that he would pray for me and God loved me even though I loved Satan. How to even begin explaining to this man that I can’t worship something I don’t believe in?

    • @Isabel I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be laughing, but your story was really funny. I love this: “His response was – “I knew you were agnostic when you answered the phone. That’s okay. God still loves devil worshippers.”

      Did his “I’ll pray for you remark” have one of those sarcasm symbols at the end of it?

    • It’s so hard for me to understand people who talk like this and at the most inappropriate place and time. All I could say when I first read this was “Damn!”

      His reaction was as though you answered the phone “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too!”

      So sorry that happened to you, Isabel.

    • LanceThruster

      When someone accuses me of being a minion of Satan, I just spin my head 360° for a bit to let them know I’ve been outed.


      • Unfortunately, this movie got different denominations into the exorcism/deliverance movement in the1970s. It gave religious leaders and so called houses of worship even more reasons to manipulate people and ruin lives.

        • I think I was still Catholic when I saw it and I remember wondering, if this is truly the nature of evil, then us mortals are totally screwed (that God would so willingly allow us to be put so perilously in harm’s way – Thx, Big Guy!!).

          I’m glad I progressed beyond that.

          “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” – Joseph Conrad

          And you are right, Charity…torture, abuse, and death from exorcisms was seen as a legitimate alternate to mental health care [shudder].

        • @Charity That movie freaked me out for a long time! The Catholic church still does exorcisms. Don’t the Baptists? They do a “laying on of hands”….It’s similar, right, only it’s by the people, not a preacher??

          • Hi Debbie,
            Yes, different denominations still do deliverances. I know it sounds naïve on my part, but I didn’t know Baptists did those until recently from another blogger

            • Oops! I’m having issues in posting.

              This blogger is Victoria, and she has amazing research regarding the study of the brain. Her blog is: http://neuroresearchproject.com/
              She even has her own personal story regarding deliverance. She goes into great detail the specifics of how the brain functions, even having logical reasons for why we turn to religion and what it does to the human brain. I would encourage everyone to look at her findings.

              It’s not just the mentally ill that are guinea pigs for this disgusting way of treatment, it’s also those with diseases and injuries in the body that these people victimize.

              Since my parents were Jesus people in the 1970s, I was exposed to some of this over the years. The even scarier part? My parents were training to do this! They even worked closely with a couple (look up the deliverance training manual “The Children’s Bread”) who were leading the way in this messed up version of modern day torture.

              Because of the things I’ve seen done to others and what has happened to me over the years, I cannot watch anything regarding deliverances, and exorcisms. Whether it’s a documentary or a horror film, it’s just to cruel and painful to watch.

              As you can imagine, I was thrilled about the apology from the Exodus president, but so sad at the same time. There is no way that group/ministry can undo all the pain, and intense drama that they caused since the 1970s.

              I would also tell your Christian readers that they need to be cautious with keywords such as Sozo and inner healing. Christians aren’t totally stupid, they have cleverly hidden their agendas for deliverance through means of other terminology and processes.

  3. I answer “Thank you. I appreciate your kind thoughts.” and have taught my kiddos to reply the same. People help or express their desire to help in a variety of ways, some which may not be what I would do or believe, but it really is best to view it as they were genuinly simply expressing their support (though I am sure there are a few who may push their agenda). However, the act of human compassion from a person, religious references or not, towards another in a time of need is something that I think we all can agree is a HUMAN quality that benefits us all.

  4. I usually just tell the person thank you. That way there’s no awkwardness. As infuriating as hearing “I’ll pray for you” is for me, I try to remind myself that the other person is most likely trying saying that they will ask their almighty to look out for me out of love and/or support.

  5. LanceThruster

    I don’t know if I should feel guilty or hypocritical or what (crazy?) but often, when the stresses, burdens, and obstacles of life get too overbearing, I mentally cry out, “HELP! Please help me!”

    I don’t know who it’s directed at (more like a message in a bottle desperation) or what I plan to accomplish, but it seems to provide a brief respite.

    Somebody help me
    Somebody help me now
    Somebody help me now

    Somebody help me
    Find my baby
    Somebody help me
    Find my baby right now

  6. But I also think that some folks just say, “I’ll pray for you” in the same way that they say “bless you” when a person sneezes. They want to make a human connection, to tell people that they care, to tell people that they are concerned for them. It’s a verbal hug of sorts, and it’s connecting in much the same way as smiling at a stranger or shaking a hand.

    Yes, this is true. And that’s why I don’t take it as insulting or as preaching when it is used in that way (or when I am not sure).

  7. LanceThruster

    Often, “I’ll pray for you” means essentially, “I find you loathsome but to establish my moral superiority over you, I’ll make a proclamation as if I want to get my God to toss you a bone.”

    I’ve heard this offered (the 1st one) when some xians discover that I’m atheist.

  8. I had someone say this to me last night on the phone. She’s the first person outside of my little family and the blogsphere to whom I’ve come out to. (I’ll blog about that in a few days, I need some time to digest that conversation.) I told her that as long as she seriously means well I see it as no different than someone who might wish me the best. Even while I was still a Christian I hated it when someone would say in a spiteful tone, “Well! I’ll pray for you!” Again, it’s all about the attitude and approach. This woman is my only, real, in flesh friend. She just happens to be a Christian for over a decade, and quite a dedicated one at that. Praying is what she does, what she knows, and what she used to do so intimately with me. Just my saying the word “atheist” was incredibly overwhelming for her. If praying for me is how she deals with it, so be it. Sometimes we’re so super concerned about coming out and how it’ll affect us that we forget just how horrifying it may be for someone who really loves us and knew us at the height of our Christianity. If my friend copes with my atheism by praying for me, I don’t mind, but actually praying for me in person, email or on the phone? No! My friend is courteous, she did no such thing and even asked my permission to pray for me in her own private time with God.

    • @Charity…Yeah, it sounds like your friend is just scared for you….

      • Debbie, it was so odd. At first, I thought it was “successful”, but after about a day of reflecting upon it, it may have not been. I’m actually going to wait even longer before I do a big write up about it because in a couple of weeks we are planning to meet each other a few hours away. I feel that this coming out story is nowhere near over with her.
        She did the usual….what is my moral compass, and immediately I went into my thoughts about the Bible and asked her how she could use that as grounds for her morality. She didn’t like that, and told me that she was asking me about the basis of my morality. I told her I go by my head and heart. I don’t blame God or the Devil for the general good or bad in the world nor in myself. I went into my thoughts about Abraham being a slave owning rapist, who also abandoned his firstborn. I also told her about my thoughts on Solomon being the biggest male whore who ever lived. I even brought up little girls who were 12-15 years old in the Bible who had to marry. I said all of this without thinking about her Jewish background! Yeah, she wasn’t expecting my responses. It doesn’t help that she’s married to one of those “founding father” type Christians either. It’s funny because when she and I first met she had only been saved for a year, and I saw her as very liberal. I was honestly moving in that direction when I met her. However, I married my husband while he was super conservative, and to “make peace” with him, I started to criticize her and others in a very snooty fashion. I was trying to be the submissive wife. Mr. Amazing and I talked about this last night and he apologized for it. I told him it was okay because I knew he was that way because he was doing all he could to hold unto his faith. We both were. So, I know that she’s having a difficult time with the dramatic changes we have both made over time.
        Anyway, I did get some sort of closure with that friend’s phone call. Does that make any sense? I had a deeper understanding of who I am now. It was a way for me to say who I am out loud.
        As I said, there’s so much that I just can’t get into right now about it. I need some time to see what happens from this point on with my relationship with her.

  9. LanceThruster

    I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon (or *do* I?), but I’ve always loved these two quotes —

    Nothing fails like prayer

    — and —

    Prayer. It’s the *least* you can do.

  10. A little late in the day eye and ear candy for all my friends on this pale blue dot. I’m holding a good thought for you all.

    • @LT I just started rewatching Cosmos on Netflix today.

      • LanceThruster

        I miss Carl.

        • Thank you for that moment of Zen

          • LanceThruster

            “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

            The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

            Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

            The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

            It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

            ― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

            It is an honor to “make our stand” here together. – LT

    • RE: “An Ascent” Several comments about god and heaven. I liked this one: “…when I see this video, I’ve recognized the EARTH is the GOD itself.”

      • LanceThruster

        From that vantage point, you really do want to reach out and give everyone a cosmic hug. If only I had that power…

  11. This is so good! I am always stumped on this. And then – I am also stumped on what to say when people ask for prayers in difficult situations. It makes me feel like I can’t do anything for them and I am then left with the feeling that I must be cold-hearted because I can’t say “Of course I’m praying for you.” when I’m not.

  12. What bothers me even more is, “Have a blessed day!” I was around evangelical churches long enough to understand the subtext of, “I’m letting you know in a sly way that I’m a Xian and proud of it.” Maybe it isn’t a conscious thought on their part, but who else besides Evangelicals even says that? Yes. I get it. You love Jesus. You think God has the power to bless people – whatever the hell that means. But please just stick to the meaningless shit everybody else says but doesn’t really mean, like “have a nice day” or “have a good one” or whatever.

    Ahhh. That felt good. Thanks, Deb, for the public forum in which to vent. Now I can go back to nodding and saying “mhmm” the next time I hear that phrase or any other secret Evangelical witnessing tool designed to woo me or make me “see Jesus” in someone’s life.

    • @MichaelB People say that a lot around here–even the cashiers at stores say, “Have a blessed day.” As I’m walking away, I always want to say something smart-a88ed. Like, my heart belongs to the devil. Or keep your blessings to yourself. The one time I did say, “I’m agnostic,” the kid had no clue what I was talking about. If you think of something clever to say, let me know….

      • Maybe a good reply would be, “What do you mean, ‘blessed’?” I’m very non-confrontational so I’d probably never say that unless I was in a really snarky mood. Maybe it’s the assumption on their part that I’m also a believer that bothers me more than assuming they have ulterior motives. Who knows?

    • The “blessed day” wish irritates me no end, and the command to HAVE a “blessed” or even a “good” day bothers me as much as the religious connotations of the word “blessed.” If someone says, “I hope you have a blessed [or good] day,” I find that much less offensive. Even better would be, “may you have a good day and may you be well!”

  13. I always go with a more useful response… “Please don’t.” If said without too much sarcasm, it tends to disarm them. I usually get a “What do you mean?” or “Why not?”. I respond, “I’d prefer you do something rather than talk about it.” That usually gets a gambit of responses but the most fun is when it gets down to “What do you want me to do (asked to me)?”

    My reply.. “Anything.. Hold a door open for someone. Compliment a stranger. Actually give that homeless person a dollar. Do one nice thing for another person and think of me when you do it… at least some good will come of this situation.”

  14. I’m not offended when someone says that they’ll pray for me. It can’t hurt me, and it makes them feel better. But I have no idea how to return the sentiment in an authentic way. For example, someone is going through a rough patch or dying or divorcing, and they are very spiritual. Sometimes they’ll outright ask for prayers, but other times, I just want to offer best wishes and better outcomes. I don’t quite have the words to say something without sounding fake. I usually roll around in “good wishes” “good karma your way” or “I’m thinking of you.”

    • @Lori “I’m thinking of you” is a nice thing to say. Sometimes people don’t even know you’re not religious; they just assume that you’re praying for them when you say you’re thinking of them.

  15. I really like what Soundtek said on the other blog and I thought I would share:

    “I guess Ill be the oddball out, and say I would be intrigued and even excited if someone from a different faith than my own offered up a “prayer” to whatever their deity might be on my behalf… even if I didnt believe in them, I would think it would be cool to know that they were nice enough to intercede on my behalf to their own beliefs.”

    As a former believer myself, I thought that was a nice way to think about it. That said, many people who want to pray for you do come off as smug rather than truly concerned.

    • That reminds me: I can remember at least two occasions as a believer where I stopped and prayed for a total stranger who was in need (usually after giving them money or some other help). It may have made them feel a little better at the time and I felt a little energized from the adrenaline rush of “being bold”, but beyond that I was so upset about having not “led them to Christ” that the positive feeling was cancelled out.

      • @MichaelB That is interesting you were upset about not leading them to Christ. You felt as if you were personally responsible. Does the church put that guilt in you?

        • @Deb Several churches I attended put winning people to Christ as a priority. Even the ones that thought “friendship” or “relationship” evangelism still made it clear that leading people to Jesus was very important.

          • @Micael B Funny you say this, someone recently pointed me to John Hagee’s FB page, which says: “The mission of John Hagee Ministries is to aggressively fulfill the commission that Jesus Christ gave to His followers to go into the world and make disciples of all people. Our purpose is to bring the lost to Jesus Christ and to build up and encourage those who are already believers. We pledge to our viewers & supporters to take The Gospel to all the World and to all Generations.”

          • LanceThruster

            It was worse than that for some cults. Check out “flirty fishing” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flirty_Fishing – practiced by the “Children of God” (now Family International).

            Talk about bait and switch.

      • Wow, MichaelB, I read your thoughts on here, and I get so mad! You, myself and so many others served the Lord with all our might for so MANY years! Unfortunately, when we come out to Christians they cross examine us and tell us that we’re just going through a struggle in our faith. . They down play our research, and countless times of ministering and being ministered to. Even my friend who I had mentioned above had the nerve to tell me “well, I’ve been through hard times too”. She has only walked in her faith for a decade. I was born into it, and prayed the sinner’s prayer at three years old. I didn’t walk away until I was almost 40! This was something I NEVER took lightly and I struggled with it my whole life, especially since my late teens. There’s just no reasoning with the brainwashed. I didn’t need philosophers or anyone else to “lead me astray”, the Bible itself was more than enough to leave it all behind.

    • @Jeremy That’s a nice quote. Thanks for sharing.

  16. LanceThruster

    Found this while looking for the Wavy Gravy polytheistic prayer from the movie “Saint Misbehavin’.”

    We Pray for Children” by Ina Hughes

    We pray for children
    Who put chocolate fingers everywhere,
    Who like to be tickled,
    Who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
    Who sneak Popsicles before supper,
    Who erase holes in math workbooks,
    Who can never find their shoes.

    And we pray for those
    Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
    Who can’t bound down the street in new sneakers,
    Who never “counted potatoes,”
    Who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead in,
    Who never go to the circus,
    Who live in an X-rated world.

    We pray for children
    Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
    Who sleep with the cat and bury goldfish,
    Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
    Who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,
    Who slurp their soup.

    And we pray for those
    Who never get dessert,
    Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
    Who can’t find any bread to steal,
    Who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
    Whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
    Whose monsters are real.

    We pray for children
    Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
    Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
    Who like ghost stories,
    Who shove dirty clothes under the bed,
    Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
    Who don’t like to be kissed in front of the car pool,
    Who squirm in church and scream on the phone,
    Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

    And we pray for those
    Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
    Who will eat anything,
    Who have never seen a dentist,
    Who are never spoiled by anyone,
    Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
    Who live and move, but have no being.

    We pray for children
    Who want to be carried
    And for those who must,
    For those we never give up on
    And for those who never get a second chance,
    For those we smother.
    And for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind
    enough to offer it.

    We pray for children. Amen.

    (We pray for Children, 1995, William Morrow publishers)

    • Love, love that “We Pray for Children.” I don’t think I’ve heard of Ina Hughes, but she reminds me of Sylvia Plath.

    • LanceThruster

      In the meantime, I also found this —

      Wouldn’t it be neat
      If the people you meet
      Had shoes upon their feet
      And something to eat?
      And wouldn’t it be fine
      If all humankind
      Had shelter?

      —Wavy Gravy “Basic Human Needs”

      • LanceThruster

        Here’s a snippet of what I was trying to find. He recites a list of names of deities and non-deities from Gumby to Vishnu.

        “May all beings have shelter; may all beings have food,” he intones before an altar crowded with iconography, both holy and comical. “Bless this day as it transpires and help me be the best Wavy Gravy I can muster.”

        Wow! I like how it rhymes for me!

        “Bless this day as it transpires and help me be the best LanceThruster I can muster.”


  17. Much like when people wish me a “merry christmas” I respond with a “happy chunakkah”. It gets them to think “whoa, maybe not everyone celebrates christmas”?. When people say “I’ll pray for you” I respond “can’t hurt”.

  18. Thanks for the shout out, Deb, and for writing about this topic. For the record, when the guy in the hospital told my husband he would pray for him, I’m pretty sure my husband actually did say “thank you.” In his conversation to me, we dissected it, though, and that’s why I ended up writing about it. I do understand that most people say things like that out of genuine kindness and concern, and that’s cool. But what strikes me as weird – and, yeah, even pushy – is when someone goes to the trouble to ask if you believe, hear you say “no, I don’t,” and then still go on to say they’ll pray for you despite that. There’s something about that that just rubs me the wrong way – because the truth is, there ARE so many other things a person can say to express concern, compassion, etc. without making it about god.

    Usually I just thank people who say that to me, too. I did have one friend, however, an evangelical Christian, who kept telling me she was praying for me when my husband was going through a lot of health stuff, even though she knew I didn’t believe. I did finally ask her to stop, and yeah, she was pretty upset. It’s not that I wanted to hurt her feelings, but I figured her feelings certainly weren’t the only ones that should matter, because her continually telling me she was praying for me had become pretty bothersome.

    • @Lisa I’ve had that experience, too, where someone was so focused on “saving me” she couldn’t care less about my own views. She used to leave me Bible verses on my voicemail. Those kinds of people have no boundaries and won’t ever be considerate of others. It’s very selfish, and when people become an annoyance, we shouldn’t feel bad about telling them to bug off….Seems to me your husband was very patient with people who were either too stupid to know any better or just believed their way was the best way. Further proof that nonbelievers are more tolerant.

  19. What do all of you do at the dinner table when all around you are believers (and your in-laws!) and want to pray before eating? Would love to hear how this group handles that. I just hold hands, sit quietly and surreptitiously watch everyone :). Of course the big challenge came recently when my FOUR year old asked what everyone was doing! I had to answer her in front of other little kids (who only know prayer) what was going on without discounting what they were doing…THAT was a challenge….on the fly, with no time to think about it.

    • @Anonymous haha I remember a similar situation at my grandmother’s house. Fortunately, I had been talking to them about how strongly she believed in God, and we don’t argue with Grandma. The previous time we were there, she was telling my kids that god made all the animals for man. So my kids started telling her that we were animals, too, and that we don’t know for sure if there is a god. I thought she would have a heart attack. Seriously. We don’t say prayers at our house, though we used to go around the table and say what we were thankful for. At other people’s homes, I just tell my kids to bow your head and respectfully wait it out. That’s all you can do. We don’t say amen or anything….Anyone else want to share his/her experiences?

  20. I hear this from my family, as a quick gesture, along the lines of… ‘I wish good things for you’. So I return with a “Thank you”.

  21. After being on the ‘other side’ for most of my life, having departed Alice’s Wonderland, to be rewarded with freedom from dogmas and nonsense, I guess it comes down to patience.

    How patient can I manage to be to the well intentioned people uttering nonsense at my face? And I hate to say it, because I like consistency in almost everything, but it’ll depend on the day and on my level of confrontational charge at the time.

    Trouble is, not even the best intentioned and well meaning people of our daily lives, should be spared from some painful truth. If I’m the one to be inflicting it on them, so be it! Considering we only live one short life, let’s try and be remembered for spreading only the truth, just as Socrates would have, even though there may be a price to pay.

  22. From the National Day of Prayer website, I thought this was interesting! Prayers may not even get to God!

    “There is a lot of prayer that never reaches God…..Usually Satan will try to suggest to you that your prayers were not heard. He will encourage you to look to the problems again and get your eyes off God. He will try to get you to talk as if you are not sure if your prayer is answered. If he succeeds in getting you to express doubt it is likely that your mouth confession will cancel the effect of your prayer. Therefore guard your mind and heart, resist the temptation to talk negatively about the situations with others, especially with those with whom you are praying.”

      • Lisa, you are much more kind than I am. My response to that is not fit to be printed.

        • Kathy, my more elaborate response would be that this is just par for the course – part of the mind-f&^k of religion. It’s a way of convincing people to repress any doubts they may have (and they will, because humans are curious beings), knowing that doubts can lead to analysis and critical thinking and – HORRORS! – un-belief. So tell the people that doubts are really just Satan getting into your brain. Problem solved.

    • LanceThruster

      Matthew 6:1-34 ESV

      “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. …

  23. I just recieved my 5 year old son’s report card. One of the statements that made me the proudest was something to the effect of “[Name] asks relevant questions and applies this knowledge to reassess a problem, task, etc.” So, I would hope, in accordance with what we teach him at home – critical thinking – that he would ask what prayer will do to help. If they are offended by a child’s curiosity, then that is their problem.

    As for me, I would most likely just smile and nod. Pick your battles and all 😉

  24. Some of you might be interested in how my husband weighed in on the issue on that original post on my blog – in response to a browbeating hardcore Christian who put his two cents in on the prayer thing:

    “I was the one who was in the hospital and who received the prayers despite his expressed non-belief in god when specifically asked about it. I take issue with two things you said . . . First you said, in response to him not answering all prayers: ‘He has his reasons as to why things don’t go out way.’ Then why pray at all? If god is going to decide how things should be for whatever are “his reasons” then prayer doesn’t make a difference.

    “Second, I think you make a big assumption when you say ‘That family was only trying to help and show compassion.’ I disagree–although I suppose I am somewhat speculating, too, although I’ve given it a lot of thought. I do not think they were trying to help or show genuine compassion. First of all, god is going to do what he or she wants for his reasons, so their praying is of no help. And I went to the hospital for help, not a church. And I already said I didn’t believe in god. Second, I don’t think they really were trying to help me in the sense that you mean: I think the father was trying to help himself and was perhaps even being a little judgmental or may have felt belittled because I don’t put much stock in his great faith. How would praying for someone who doesn’t believe in god be an act of compassion? And what did he do that was compassionate? Ask a favor for me? It might have been one thing had I said ‘please say a prayer for me.’ But I kind of said the opposite. I think on the surface it appears to be a nice thing, but I think people ultimately do it because they think they will gain favor with god and because it makes them feel good about themselves. It cannot be because god may say ‘oh, gee, there seems to be a lot of people praying for this guy, so I’d better do something.’

    “And finally, the judgmental part: I think his prayer is two-fold. Maybe there is the ‘god, heal this man.’ But I think that’s incidental to the real prayer: ‘god, forgive this arrogant fool for not believing in you.’ Or something like that.

    “I could be completely wrong. Anyway, yeah, turn off those caps. It not only looks like yelling, but everything looks the same and it’s hard to see the words and sentences. There’s no contrast.

    “Good luck to you, Dennis. And I mean that with all the compassion I can muster. Because I have a hand in your luck, obviously. Wasn’t that helpful? OK, seriously, thanks for weighing in on this topic.”


    “Why wouldn’t it have been just as compassionate–maybe even more compassionate–to just say ‘I hope everything turns out ok for you’ or ‘hope you feel better.’ But the father didn’t say that. Even under the most generous analysis, at best he said ‘Hey, I know this guy and I’ll contact him for you and see what I can do.’ And then he gets to tell everyone how he prayed for me–used his special contact, his sway, to get me well (assuming I get well). Maybe that’s a stretch, but there’s a certain sickness there.

    Let me just say one thing, and I can because you weren’t there. When that father turned around and said to me ‘I know you don’t believe in god but I’m going to pray for you anyway,’ there’s was a definite expression of arrogance. Hence the eye roll.

    • This brings up an interesting point regarding prayer. There have been studies on the efficacy of prayer – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficacy_of_prayer – but I contend there is no “control group” because when I used to believe, I got tired of the recitation of a list that I was afraid I’d leave someone off, so I modified my prayer request to pray for “everyone, everywhere, past, present, and future” so there is literally no one in creation that has not been prayed for. Now it would have to be a study on how many prayers, how many people, how long they prayed, who they prayed to, etc., to try to sort through this sort of irrationalism.

      An earlier poster had a brilliant response that offered “can’t hurt.” I think it would be funny to throw it back on them and say, “As long as you’re certain it won’t hurt.” and see what their response is.

      It’s almost like making sure someone who offers First Aid is qualified.

      • And I love this tidbit from the previous link —

        Harris also criticized existing empirical studies for limiting themselves to prayers for relatively unmiraculous events, like recovery from heart surgery. He suggested a simple experiment to settle the issue:

        Get a billion Christians to pray for a single amputee. Get them to pray that God regrow that missing limb. This happens to salamanders every day, presumably without prayer; this is within the capacity of God. I find it interesting that people of faith only tend to pray for conditions that are self-limiting.[44]

      • This has always been a source of fascination for me. Is god looking to see who can win a popularity contest? “That guy dying of cancer down there in Toledo, well, he’s got hundreds of folks praying for him, so I’ll save him. But that woman in Boise, well, she doesn’t have a lot of friends or family and very few people are praying for her, so I’ll kill her off.” Do people *really* believe that if enough people pray, and pray hard enough, that it will make a difference??

    • @Lisa. Thanks for sharing your husband’s POV.

      Yeah I think there is always the thought that they are doing god’s work and hence gaining his favor.

  25. I’ll give an Ian Hunter wish for you —

  26. This guy makes an interesting point on his Facebook and Twitter accounts…

    Carl Sherburne

    Praying is a lot like masturbation. It feels good to the person doing it but does nothing for the person being thought about

    • Wonderfully astute, Charity.

    • @Charity. Re: masturbation/prayer quote

      Wait. Wait. Would it be appropriate to add “it does nothing…unless the person is watching?”

      • You know….studies out there show us that people tend to do better healthwise when they know someone is praying for them versus when they have no clue that someone is interceding to God on their behalf.

        Personally, I don’t think that it’s the prayer aspect as much as it is that person being made aware of someone actually caring for them. I have had people pray for me, as well as having prayed for others myself. There is a real, genuine upside to prayer when done right, but today’s society no longer carries that type of interaction within our culture. Those keys are sincere listening, and compassionate touching. People are not always looking for an answer to prayer as much as they are longing to be heard.

        When I was a Christian I tried my best to be this way with most of the people I prayed for. I had believed that compassion and laying hands on the sick was how prayer was designed to be done. I didn’t do the horrifying pushing either! I would hold a hand, hug or gently rest my hand on their head or shoulder. Good touches are way, way underrated! People feel better when they know they are loved. I have seen and heard many tears when I’ve prayed for people who have come up to me in a prayer line or a friend who has asked for prayer or even those who have called for help on a prayer phone line.

        The world doesn’t need more countless religions, it needs a love revolution.

        • @Charity Well said, Charity: “The world doesn’t need more countless religions, it needs a love revolution.”

          I’ve read studies like that, too, even on Medscape. I guess the prayer placebo doesn’t matter much as long as people believe.

          I imagine from what I know of your words here, whether you are a believer or not, you will always be kind and compassionate…

  27. Sorry, didn’t mean to be so serious.

  28. I know I am late this party and I know much of what I will state has been stated by others, but…

    I do find the phrase “I’ll pray for you” offensive because it assumes 1) the person for whom the prayers are being say may be incapable of conducting her/his own affairs without supernatural assistance, 2) as others have said, it overrides what another person may think or believe, and 3) I agree it is an arrogant statement (as though their personal intervention will make all difference). There may be a sentiment of care or concern in there, but it is a wholly loaded statement.

    When someone says to me “I’ll pray for you”, I tend to respond with “I’ll do science for you.”

    • @Derrick That’s a clever response. How do people respond?

      • @Deborah Mitchell Most of the time I just get a confused stare. On very rare occasion, someone will ask what I mean. I will tell them, “While you appeal to the supernatural, I will appeal to the natural.” I’ve never had the conversation go further than this.

  29. LanceThruster

    Interesting piece here – http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/06/29/atheists-unveil-monument-in-florida-and-promise-to-build-50-more/

    I also just watched a touching doc about country artist Chely Wright coming out (wish Me Away – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1746264/?ref_=sr_1 ). The religious insensitivity was troubling, but was balanced out by the acceptance of those of faith. Imagine what that reaction would be like if she had also walked away from her faith. Would it be as understanding? Hard to say but I’d guess not.

    • @LT I did see that piece about the atheist monument. I just wish I knew what was written on the other side, and, where can I order one?

      I watched that documentary clip, and the thing that really touched me was that this woman was so distraught over just being herself. It’s just such a shame that people get in other’s business. She hurts no one with her personal choices–in fact, she hurts more people by pretending to be someone she’s not….

      Thanks for sharing.

    • @LT I’m actually going to be talking with Mr. DeWitt and writing up a blog post soon. His story seems very interesting.

      • LanceThruster

        Looking forward to it!

        • Me too, LT! I’ve been reading about him since Christmas of last year. From what I understand he just started a “church” for atheists in LOUISIANA! I believe he had been a minister for 25 years before he left Christianity.

          I can relate to the story you linked us to. I had been going back and forth with my faith, especially the last two years of it. I talked to a friend (believe it or not, the very same one I mentioned above). She was going through so much at the time. I ended our call with a long, detailed prayer for her. I remember getting off the phone and being totally taken back by my lack of faith. I didn’t feel like I lost it, but it suddenly seemed as though I never had it begin with. Something in me just screamed that it was over. I think that ended up being my very last prayer…ever!

          Let us know how it all goes, Debbie. I’m looking forward to it!

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