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Supacase's avatar

What do you say when people ask for prayers?

Asked by Supacase (14500 points ) January 3rd, 2011

Someone asks for prayers for a friend or family member who is sick. I find myself fumbling for the right answer every time this happens.

I don’t know that I believe in God, so I do not feel right telling them I will keep them in my prayers; however, I feel like saying that I will keep them in my thoughts is kind of an obvious cop-out and not nearly as meaningful to them.

They are the ones who need comfort – should I just go with it for their sake or should I stand by my beliefs (or lack thereof)?

Considering the area I live, it is likely assumed that I am Christian. I don’t discuss religion, or my personal beliefs, with many people – even some close friends and family members are unaware of my thoughts on the subject. It is not because I am ashamed; it is because it is personal and I don’t care to debate or defend my private beliefs.

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45 Answers

iamthemob's avatar

“Of course I will.”

I don’t see anything wrong in taking 10 seconds to think in my head “If you’re out there, please help them.”

KatawaGrey's avatar

I am a theist but not Christian. I tell people that I will send good energy their way and keep them in my thoughts. Sometimes, though, when someone is having a really bad time or if a loved one is in the hospital or some other life-threatening situation, it really is better to swallow your pride and say “of course” when someone says “please keep us in your prayers.”

I know this seems like you’re being dishonest but when someone’s life is being turned upside down, it is not a very nice thing to try and explain why you think their most basic and important coping mechanism is wrong.

belakyre's avatar

I guess that if they do request a prayer from you, you could always say that despite you are not a follower of any religion, you will keep that person in your thoughts and hope that they’ll get better.

Rarebear's avatar

I say, “I will.”

JilltheTooth's avatar

I don’t feel you’re being dishonest if saying “yes” offers comfort. I do however feel it’s a bit disrespectful of their concern if you explain why not or say you don’t believe. This isn’t about you, it’s about their loved one.

JLeslie's avatar

Depends on the situation. Sometimes I reply by telling them they are in my thoughts, and please let me know if I can help in any way. Sometimes I ignore they said it and kind of change the subject by asking a question. It depends.

It is awkward.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I always just give them a really sympathetic smile and grasp their hands and give them a squeeze.

JLeslie's avatar

I like your answer @papayalily.

What if it is over the phone?

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@JLeslie Really sympathetic sigh/whine. Kinda like when you’re a teenage girl and your BFF tells you how her boyfriend did something really romantic and you go “Awwwww!” but instead “Ohhhhhh!” and without the smile… Sometimes I tell them I’m giving them a phone hug.

marinelife's avatar

I say that I will send positive thoughts.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I don’t believe in God, but I feel they need the support so I say certainly. If it doesn’t get received by anyone and it helps them I’m still good with it.

Supacase's avatar

Oh no, I would never use it as an opportunity to explain my own beliefs! I really don’t mind saying “of course” except that I don’t want to… cheapen it? for them. Of course, if they don’t know… If this is one of those okay to tell a little lie moments, I can do that.

JLeslie's avatar

I can’t say, “of course,” because it will hit the person after the fact that they know I don’t pray or believe in God if they are a friend of mine. I kind of think they ask for prayers, partly because they believe it will help, but also because it is part of their vernacular. They say it almost unconsciously I think.

Prosb's avatar

If asked, I would just say “Certainly”. When it comes to prayers around a table or something, I just sit there, looking at everyone bowing their heads with their eyes closed. Always kind of weirded me out. The first time I just sat there at the table watching when I was like 11 or 12, I saw my Uncle Dave sitting there watching everyone else pray too. I knew he didn’t believe, but actually seeing him there at that table after I realized what a joke religion was, made me not feel so alone at a house full of “god”.

tinyfaery's avatar

I just say, you are in my thoughts. I don’t pray. I’m not about to lie and say I’ll do something I won’t.

JLeslie's avatar

@Prosb The first time I saw people pray before a meal, I was around 10 years old, eating dinner at a girlfriends house. It was very weird for me, I had no preparation.

janbb's avatar

I usually say “I’m not a praying person but my thoughts are with you” – however, if I felt that that would sound too harsh, I would just smile and nod.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie I have a little ritual when dealing with a dead animal that includes a prayer to nature. I do it the same way. If they believe in God, he should be able to hear my prayer. I’ve explained it to people who’ve called me on my belief system and they thought it was a cool way to do it that satisfies both of us.

BoBo1946's avatar

I say a quick well intended prayer to help that person.

Aster's avatar

I say, “yes; I’ll pray for them tonight.” I read a study where patients who were prayed for got well quicker than those who were not prayed for. But it might not have been a replicated, double-blind,
Good Housekeeping Seal approved, carved in granite and blessed by the Pope study.

BoBo1946's avatar

yikes… deleted General !

cheebdragon's avatar

I stand there feeling awkward and mumble something like “sure thing” or “will do” before casually changing the subject.

I had to take my dog to the animal hospital recently and there was a guy in the waiting room who was calling everyone he had ever met (from the sound of it) and asking them to pray for his dog who had been hit by a car. I felt bad because I know what it’s like to lose a dog that way, but at the same time I was thinking, if there really is a god out there, is it fair to ask him to save your dog while there is so much horrible crap going on around the world?

JLeslie's avatar

@Aster I had heard about that study also, and I have no idea if it was replicated or not. However, I also recently heard about a study that analyzed attitude of cancer patients, and how well they did. It was looking at if optimists were more likely to survive and be cancer free. Supposedly they found no difference between people who thought they might never get well, and people who believed they were going to beat it. Two different things, patient atitude and prayer, but I thought it was interesting.

Blueroses's avatar

A prayer can take many forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be to a God. Hoping for good things to come to your friend can be a form of prayer and focus of your energy and sympathies on them. If you care about the person asking you for prayer, any method you choose to acknowledge their pain sincerely is not being dishonest to yourself or to them.

Supacase's avatar

Thank you, @Blueroses. That puts things into perspective for me.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I smile and say “I’ll send good thoughts your way”, because like a couple of other people have said, I’m not about to lie. Because if you know them well, they’ll most likely find out down the road that you don’t pray, and then your lie is going to be apparent.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blueroses I think it is just uncomfortable for people who never use that terminology to use it. Or, even be around it.

Summum's avatar

What is prayer? It is the outward pouring of you heart for an answer to some of lifes tasks and you can just say yes and then keep them in your thoughts. It is the same thing and if you don’t get on you knees and pray you still think of the other and send warm wishes and best blessings to the person who is needing those thoughts. They both work as well as the other it is a combined effort that will somethings make a difference.

JilltheTooth's avatar

I figure that if someone is at the point of asking for prayers during a crisis, they’re not going to be tallying up a “who said what” score, later.

Facade's avatar

I am a Christian, so of course I’d say a prayer for them. But, even if I wasn’t, I’d say a prayer. It wouldn’t do any harm to anyone.

Seelix's avatar

I’m with @JilltheTooth. I don’t believe in god, and can’t bring myself to say that I’ll pray when I know I won’t. I’ll just say something kind like “I wish you the best” or “I’ll keep you in my thoughts”. If they’re offended by that, I probably wouldn’t want to wish them the best anyway.

SavoirFaire's avatar

When someone says “keep me in your prayers,” I say “of course.” When people are suffering is not the moment to say, “I don’t know if you are aware of this, but I don’t believe in God and your whole coping mechanism is utter bullshit.” And it’s true that I would include the person’s concern in whatever prayers I made. I just don’t make any (except for maybe the occasional “if you’re out there” kind of prayer like @iamthemob mentioned). It’s no different than when I promise to do something the next time I’m in church but never happen to go to church again.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

No one who knows me would ever ask me to keep them “in my prayers”, as they know that I haven’t got a prayer.

cheebdragon's avatar

“I’ll keep you in my thoughts”? What if you forget?

flutherother's avatar

I would be a little embarrassed but I would say OK without deeply meaning it. I don’t really believe in asking favours of God but I know when times get tough it does happen.

YARNLADY's avatar

I say; “My thoughts and best wishes are with you and your family”.

filmfann's avatar

I say I will.
And I always remember to follow thru.

AmWiser's avatar

I simply say “yes, I will”.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve always gone with “I’ll be sending positive thoughts your way”, or “I’ll be thinking of you”, something along those lines. I really like @Blueroses answer, but I don’t know if I could do it. Saying I’d pray for someone just doesn’t come naturally to me at this point in my life.

cheebdragon's avatar

People don’t usually specify for you to pray to god, right? I mean technically, what’s the harm in praying to Elvis? Or Phil Collins?

KatawaGrey's avatar

@cheebdragon: I don’t know if you’re being serious or not but this is what I usually do when I am in a situation that “requires” me to pray such as having dinner with a devoutly Christian friend and his/her family. Instead of praying to God or Jesus, I “pray” to the divine being that I believe is up there.

cheebdragon's avatar

@katawagrey I was fairly serious, but it was directed at the people who aren’t religious and don’t want to have the awkward “yeah, sorry, I don’t believe in god, but good luck with your loved ones” conversation.

ChiCricket's avatar

How about something like “I hope the cancer treatment (or surgery or whatever) is successful and that your family has all the support they need?

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