Something a little less controversial is on the menu today.
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?