the prayer may take you there, but you don’t need to drag anyone else into it.
this morning, i was reading the tragic story of a young man, a quarterback with incredible athletic ability, somehow getting lost and perishing in the woods. i should know better than to look at the comments after any story in a national publication, but i went there.
it started off with a woman offering prayers.
Dear Lord, take him into your kingdom, for all are weak and weary, and stumble and fall and fail..Have mercy Lord.
of course, some took offense over her line about people being weak and weary and stumbling and falling. considering the man may have had some emotional issues, this could have been taken in a number of different ways. at first people took offense to her prayer. they found it insensitive to the man and the family and noted it.
enter the religious folks. one wrote:
Great. A Christian makes a thoughtful and prayerful comment about a very tragic situation and all the atheist assholes come out of the woodwork. Go back in your wormholes.
so accept her thoughtful christian prayer, you heathen assholes. (not a very christian sentiment, i would add.)
backup comes. one person finally clarifies it all for the world (and i would add: sic):
YOU people must don’t go to church to understand her prayer…she meant NO harm by it!! People read your bible and go to church and maybe you WILL understand her prayer…geez!
so see? her prayer should be accepted and appreciated. and everyone else, you clearly need to go to church. fin.
like i said earlier, i don’t usually look at comment sections of national publications. usually, they are permeated with trolls and other bizarro people who often, though not always, hide behind anonymity to spew some really awful stuff, stuff they might never (although never say never with people, i suppose) say to a person’s face if they encountered them in real life. but i did, and it got me thinking.
it’s wonderful to offer support to people, particularly the bereaved. the world surely needs love today. but isn’t it selfish if you are offering support that screams your faith? your faith may be a great comfort to you, but it may mean nothing to the person to whom you’re offering it. for example, i cannot tell you how many times people have invoked jesus’ name when they’ve sought to provide sympathy to me during my life. i smile and say thank you because i was raised to be a nice jewish girl; but honestly, invoking jesus’ name means literally nothing to me. well, nothing other than you are pressing your religion on me, possibly at a time when i really, really would prefer non-sectarian kindness. i don’t think all christians in particular get this concept. we realize that when you tell us you are praying for us that this is a comfort to you, as you are doing something which you’ve taught is something that should of course be a comfort to everyone. but for those of us non-christians — and especially for those of us who are atheists — telling us you are praying for us is kind of a subtle burden, a tacit moment of you pushing your faith on us. i do not doubt for one nanosecond that this is done unconsciously and with great love and caring; but if you ever stopped for a second and put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you might rethink it.
why not instead go for the human touch? why not extend condolences? why not say lovely things about the lost loved one? you might wish the bereaved the strength to get through such a tough time. there are a lot of things you can say to a person that are kind and loving and which convey your deep sympathies without getting all religious on him. instead of telling me you’re praying for me, why not instead say i’m in your thoughts? it works.
now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t pray for someone if that’s what your religion teaches you to do. but you shouldn’t foist that on someone else who doesn’t share your beliefs. pray all you want — pray for the bereaved, pray for the lost love one — just do it for yourself, quietly, respectfully.
when my beloved father in law passed away a few years ago, i was so deeply sad for my husband, for my kids, for my mother in law and for the rest of the family. (i was also deeply sad, period. my father in law was a wonderful man.) as my father in law was catholic, he was buried in accordance with his faith. i would never have dreamed of pushing my religious beliefs on anyone in my husband’s family, then or on any other day. i walked up to his casket and let my heart speak. i remember thinking positive thoughts to send him on his way. and then, i remember, quietly, in my internal dialogue, telling him i hoped he would understand that i was going to quietly do what i was taught to do in this situation. i hoped, if nothing else, that he was looking down from heaven, and getting a giggle over his strange but ever-loyal jewish daughter in law.
and in my head, i quietly said mourner’s kaddish.
i would never want to burden any of the living with my religious beliefs (though i eventually told my husband, who i think smiled at the weirdness of the act), especially at a time like that. but i hoped that as he started his journey, my father in law would understand.