We Have More to Offer Than Our Thoughts and Prayers
The Rev. Andrew Suitter
My thoughts and prayers are with you.
No, no. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Over the last few weeks, and especially since last Sunday and the horrific church shooting in Texas, these words have been the focus of many posts woven throughout social media because for many—these seven words have become a source of irritation.
When a national crisis or tragedy happens—
—like the senseless killings of innocents while sitting in church—
—or when there is an epidemic like the opioid crisis—
—or when there is ongoing generational poverty in certain pockets of an entire city—
—or when there are increasing rates of mass incarcerations—
--these seven words always seem to find their place in the paths of those affected by these situations.
Well, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Now—to be clear—I think when these words are spoken—I like to believe they have true, honest, and sincere intent—and they are indeed a gift in the right circumstances. My thoughts and prayers are yours. They are indeed with you!
But—let’s be honest—when tragedies happen—any kind of tragedy—we do not always know what to do or what to say—and clergy are no exception! Not only do we not always know what to say, we don’t always know how to react ourselves—and so we say what might be most familiar—and maybe even what seems most appropriate given our Christian vernacular——my thoughts and prayers are with you. And with this, we believe it, and we mean it.
The recent pushback against these seven words comes on the heels of massively violent crimes aimed at innocent people. And this pushback, in all its various forms, asks questions that we don’t always know or have the answers for. Questions like:
-Are our prayers working?
-What can we do in addition to prayer so to spare the pain of these tragedies in the future?
-Whose hearts do we pray, change?
-Am I able to offer more than just my thoughts and prayers?
If anyone has read or listened to the news in the last 30 days alone, we know there is a lot of pain being felt all over. And sometimes, it seems anyway, there is only so much that we have to give to the problems of the world on top of those we face in our own lives—and together it can be overwhelming as we search for a place in which to care for both. Sometimes thoughts and prayers are the perfect offering, but what about when there is more to do?
I am thankful for the voices who have called out those of us who use this language—myself included, because deep down what they are saying is that apart from our theologies, apart from our beliefs about laws and government—we are a people who are called to the suffering of the world—and doing the work of relieving it.
I am thankful for the critique of those for whom these seven words bother, because they remind us that we have more to offer than only our thoughts and prayers—and they remind us that what we say, isn’t always what is heard—even with the purest of hearts.
And, if I am honest—the critique is just uncomfortable, despite the gains from it, because it asks me to check myself!
It is asking me to rethink not only how I pray, but how open I am to ACT!? And what has made me most uncomfortable, is that these voices, calling us out, are a reminder to reconnect, to recommit, or even to begin walking on the path of loving and healing this world—and its not always easy.
Beloveds, these voices crying for deeper honesty, demanding more action, and requiring substance in our care in addition to thoughts and prayers—are reminiscent of the prophets of old who called God’s people to a higher standard of love.
These voices are our prophets today—they are the loud voices—they are the ones calling our attention to reconsider our words and our actions—and asking us to pay even a bit more attention to the pains all around us—because many times we indeed have more to offer than our thoughts and prayers alone.
It is through our actions as disciples and witnesses to God’s grace, after all, in addition to our thoughts and prayers, that we make visible God’s kingdom in the world….
Today’s gospel lesson highlights the 10 bridesmaids who are a metaphor for our own preparedness for God’s kingdom. And while this lesson is a lesson on heaven—a lesson on life in the aftermath of this world—I would rather like to think that this is an introduction to the kingdom of heaven right here—right now!
The foolish and the wise bridesmaids hold a mirror up to us as we traverse this world. We run short sometimes. We fall asleep when we might miss something. We forget the prudence in being prepared.
Sometimes, though, we miscalculate in thinking that we are being prudent and prepared. Just this week, a friend was in my car and while I was driving, insisted that I pull over to the next gas station. I was shocked. I asked what his concern was, and he said, “as cold as it is, your gas light is on, and you need to stop and fill up.”
I tried to explain that he needn’t worry, that for the last twenty years of my driving, its become a game—how far can I go—and only once have I ever run out and it was when I was 16. He just looked at me with disgust, and clearly was not impressed. And standing here telling you this, I myself am not very impressed either. Processing out loud, always has a different interpretation, yes?
He started to speak, and so I paused. He said what some of you might have said or be thinking with me now, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, Andrew. Go to the gas station NOW!”
And so I went—but begrudgingly because I felt like I knew what I was doing—and because my game is fun—for me—but concerning for a passenger. I was going to get it the next day, I knew I had another 50 miles or so, but any time save for now, did not work for my friend. And, I can’t blame him. “Wake up Andrew, you’re gonna get us both stuck out here in this cold.”
He may even have been right.
“Keep Awake!”, the prophets say.
“Wake up” my friend says.
“You have more to offer than thoughts, prayers and good vibes” says the world.
Our friends, while critical of our words, only want more of our potential from us. Our friends are asking us to pay better attention to the pains we see and to be ever faithful in our care—or to consider that maybe our prayers can become our hands and feet doing the work we are praying for someone else to do.
Maybe we are the gap. Maybe we are the answer to another’s pain. Maybe it is our hand, our time, our resource, our presence, our advocacy, our sense, our comfort that is needed in addition to our thoughts and prayers, that will make a difference for the pain we feel and observe all around us.
One of the blessings you will hear from this pulpit, is a prayer that we might offer ourselves in care, and compassion for those around us. The blessing goes:
“Life is short … and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”
This, beloveds, is our task: That we stay awake to love, to serve, to be kindness in the world where there is so much pain.
May we be doers of our words, and answers to the prayers of all the faithful. Amen.