Friday, December 10, 2010

Why I Probably Won't Tell You I'm Praying For You...Even if I Am

New Evangelicals tend to be a little overzealous. They are so excited about their new found faith that they are determined to witness to everyone and openly demonstrate their faith as often as possible. As a teenage Evangelical, I was no exception. But one of my biggest regrets about my behavior was how often I told people, "I'm praying for you." Let me explain.

It's not that I don't believe in prayer and it's not that I don't pray. I think it's important to pray for others and I do believe there are times where it is indeed helpful to let people know you're praying for them. The reason I regret it is because I began to realize how often those words carried a hidden agenda.

As a new Evangelical, the words are almost thrown around as proof that you are serious about your faith. It's not enough to simply be praying, but they must know that you are praying. They must know that you follow Jesus. They must see that you're different. When you attend Conservative Christian College, proving your faith to others isn't as much of an issue, since you assume that everyone shares the same beliefs. There the words serve a new purpose. Apart from expressing the fact that you are indeed praying, they are often used as a passive aggressive disapproval of the prayer recipient (ex: Upon seeing a friend leave a movie you think it inappropriate for Christians, you say "I'm praying for you.") or simply what you say when you don't know what else to say or don't want to actually help with the issue at hand.

That may sound harsh, and for that I apologize. However, having both seen and perpetuated the misuse of this phrase I think it can be true in many cases. About five years ago, I was involved in a severe car accident that left me with permanent injuries. Even though my injuries were not that bad all things considered, their nature made some everyday tasks nearly impossible, especially certain household cleaining activities and anything involving a lot of lifting. (To be fair, neither of these are things I enjoyed pre-injury nor are they enjoyable to most people.) My point is that in that time when many of my Evangelical friends asked what I needed, it ended with a lot more "I'll be praying for you" than it did with offers to help carry my luggage or clean my bathtub. I don't think this phrase should ever be used as a replacement for helping in tangible ways when able. How many times have we heard that a church/ministry/charity we like is struggling financially and respond by telling them we'll pray rather than donating within our ability? As one of my fellow students at Conservative Christian College said "I hate when people use prayer as an excuse not to do what they already know they should be doing."

There are times, such as when faced with devestating loss, when there isn't much you can do apart from pray. And there are times when people need to hear that others are praying for them. Yet in an effort to make sure I don't participate in the type of misuse that I have experienced, I'm learning to embrace a more humble approach to prayer. One that tells people I am praying for them only if it will be beneficial to them. I want to live my life in a way that others know I will always be willing to help them and pray for them, whether I continually broadcast that fact or not.

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