Monday, May 11, 2015

The nuclear bomb of sentiments: "I am praying for you"

So this phrase, "I am praying for you," pops up on Facebook all the time.  It comes from a lot of Southern friends, but is not just limited to the South.  It's certainly not something I heard much in Virginia growing up.

So why is it the nuclear bomb of phrases, sending off sparks and shrapnel and behind the back snickering and snarking whenever it is uttered?

I used to roll my eyes when I heard it.  When I was in a tough time, I asked for hugs or thoughts, but not prayers.  As you might know, I steadfastly did not believe in God from about 2000 to 2014 (after growing up a "don't stop believin' Methodist").  I thought the phrase was at best quaint and at worst condescending or hypocritical.

But that has changed.  God welcomed me back to his embrace and to His house starting in September 2014.  I have not forsaken my "non-belief," or the strident condemnation of organized religion and its doctrine that appeared in my first book.  I am forging a new faith, that is big enough to embrace believers and non-believers alike.  So I still get pissed off at religion's failings.  But in general, everything has softened, and is haloed by a warm glow.

What I now hear when someone says they are praying for me is really "I love you." I still get it: the offense taken by non-believers and the anger at the facile assumption that one wants or welcomes prayer.  But I believe that most of those who say it are well-meaning, and are simply saying "I love you." Sure there are hypocritical and holier-than-thou evangelists that sneer when they say it, but I haven't seen very much of that.

The words "I love you" are tragically taboo in our world.  Sure, parents say it to kids, and girlfriends to girlfriends, and wives to husbands, and premier husbands to wives.  But men don't say it to men or boys.  Coaches don't say it to players.  Bosses don't (and actually cannot legally) say it to employees. It's rare to hear even pastors say it directly to a parishioner, in a parish that is supposed to be built on the one true love of God.  The love of God that walks on Earth in the form of love between men.

But we choke on those three words.  We are scared we will be seen as soft or vulnerable, or scared it won't be said back to us.  Unrequited love is the saddest feeling in the world and we are not brave enough to risk that sadness if only an echo answers when we say "I love you."

So I will take the phrase "I am praying for you," any day of the week now.  I cannot do this life, this hard and humbling life, on my own.  I need hugs, and thoughts, and love, and prayers.

I'm still reticent to say it to others in case of causing offense.  Maybe it's best for me to just say what I mean.

I love you.  

God, to have these guys in a room together again....