A Better Phrase than "Thoughts and Prayers"

03.21.24 05:07 PM Comment(s) By Amy

“Thoughts and Prayers." I’m sure you’ve seen (and used) the phrase to sign off on a card or to post on social media when responding to a death, illness, or other difficulty. It used to be seen as a sincere and well-received wish. However, when it became the ubiquitous response to mass shootings, that changed. Many recipients criticized the words as hollow when not paired with concrete actions that they felt helped the situation. Since then, no matter how sincere you are, and even if offered in far less contentious situations, "thoughts and prayers" is no longer an ideal phrase to use. But what do you say instead? How can you be thoughtful and comforting without sounding trite?

If your faith tradition is such that prayer is a part of your daily life, you can still offer prayers. When you do, though, instead of saying “Thoughts and Prayers”, name specific things you’re praying for. For instance, “I’m praying for you as you cope with this, that you may be given strength to endure, wisdom to know what to do, and courage to face an uncertain future.” Or “I pray that you will be given all you need to get through this, and that over time your heart may heal.” Or “I pray that even when you can’t feel it, your heart will know you are being held in God’s strong, loving hands.” Or whatever language and names for the Divine make sense to you in your faith.

One danger of using faith language, though, is that you assume the recipient shares your perspective. What if you are unsure of their faith, or if you know for certain that they are agnostic or atheist?
You can write: "In my faith tradition, I always pray for the people I care about who are going through tough times. It's my way of offering support, concern, and comfort. So today, I am praying for.... (patience, wisdom, strength, decent sleep, etc.) I am right here in your corner." Or you can you the words “wish” or “may you” as an alternative to “pray,” such as “I wish you comfort in this most difficult time,” or “May you find strength and healing as you face this challenging journey. You are not alone.”
Another option that eliminates the faith aspect is to say “My heart is with you” or “My heart breaks for you” or “You are never far from my heart and my mind” or simply “I am here for you throughout this difficult time”.

Then, of course, if geography and nature of relationship allow, take actions that help. Don’t tell them to “call me anytime,” because that puts the onus on them to take the vulnerable step of asking for help. Instead, be proactive and you call them on a regular basis to check in and just listen. Call or text to say that you’re going to the grocery store and ask if they need toilet paper, tissues, or food items that you can pick up for them. Ask which day you can take them out for coffee or help them with a task around the house. Even little things are greatly appreciated. Do whatever you can to follow up on your good wishes and prove them to be true.


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