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"Thoughts and Prayers"

By Ryan Dunn

Our thoughts and prayers are with #SutherlandSprings. Our thoughts and prayers are with #LasVegas. Our thoughts and prayers are with #Antioch. Our thoughts and prayers are with #Dallas. Our thoughts and prayers are with #Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with #Charleston.

We've said those words a lot. We've typed the "thoughts and prayers" sentiment with great regularity.

We keep sending thoughts and prayers, and yet troubling events keep occurring. Evil still manages to have moments of seeming victorious. Many are now asking, "What good are 'thoughts and prayers'?"

Admittedly, I wondered what good tweeting out "thoughts and prayers" in immediate response to our most recent tragedy was going to do. But I did it. And in contemplating the tweet's utility, I realized a few things about "thoughts and prayers": they align me in a better space, they align me to others, and they push into activity.

An Alignment of Heart

Responding to tragedy forces a confrontation within me. This confrontation is between my perception of the world that is, and my hope for the world that should be. Saying "my thoughts and prayers are with you" is an admission that I wish for better conditions for the world. I am realigned in hoping for a world of goodness and unity.

A Sense of Togetherness

My voice joins others who are expressing concern and empathy. It expresses a wish that those in the midst of suffering not endure it alone. Such messages are powerful to those who are on the receiving end. This message places me alongside others who are expressing concern, as well. It is a point of unity and togetherness.

A Path to Action

If I'm true to my word — if I actually do contemplate and pray for those who have been directly affected by tragedy — I am unlikely to be lost to inactivity. Concern for others promotes a call to action on the behalf of others. As I consider and pray for the needs of the communities and loved ones affected by tragedy, I'll likely see ways that I can act on behalf of others — how I can be a person of healing or compassion. The answer to prayer often involves action from the pray-er. "Thoughts and prayers" should stir us to compassionate action.

(For information on how United Methodists are asked to take action to end gun violence, see Resolution 3428.)

…And What Else?

"Thoughts and prayers" are a natural response to many tragedies, because most of us are far removed from the location of the tragedies. We have limited ways in which can offer immediate empathy, condolences, and good wishes for those involved. "Thoughts and prayers" enable us to express concern from afar.

We can still take action against the presence of evil in our world, however, by addressing how we overcome evil in our own communities. This begins with a personal decision to be our best selves — to be good, unifying, concerned individuals. It starts with actions like being kind to our neighbors, extending grace to those around us, and asking others if they are OK… And, when needed, telling them our thoughts and prayers are with them too.

Ryan Dunn, Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church (a part of United Methodist Communications)

Posted: November 6, 2017