Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why "I'll Pray For You" Doesn't Help

"I just feel so lost. I want to die, but at the same time, I just want to live."

"Ohh. I'm so sorry. I'll pray for you. Here, read these Bible verses."

That is the sort of conversation I've had many times. I'm in a dark place, and when I admit it to someone, their only words of comfort are 'I'll pray for you', and a few Bible verses copied-and-pasted from a Bible app or from Google.

As a person who has been and still is from time to time in that dark place where life seems meaningless, I feel qualified to speak about the "I'll pray for you" line and why it's rarely any help to a depressed or suicidal individual.

Perhaps you think you're being kind, encouraging, and comforting in your religious words of "I'll pray for you" and "Here, have some Bible verses".

And I'll say right now, sometimes, when done right, it can be comforting. One night, I was extremely lonely and sad, and a panic attack had come on. It was late, but I wasn't thinking about that when I called one of my brothers.

He was awake. And he sat there on the phone for a while, asking me what was wrong and giving me chances to talk if I could. In the end, he prayed out loud for me, and then read a passage from the Bible. Part of it was no doubt the gentle way he was talking - it soothed my frazzled nerves - but mainly it was comforting because I could hear it, and because he didn't just do that and then say he was going to go to bed. He stayed on the line and talked to me, reassuring me it was going to be okay.

Done in that way, the prayer and Bible verses tactic can be comforting.

But more often than not, a person I confide in will simply tell me after I just poured out my heart to them, "Oh no, I'm so sorry. I'll pray for you." Then they'll send some of the typical Bible verses. And... apparently expecting that to be all the comfort needed, they'll either move on with other topics or decide they have to go do something else more pressing.

That is not comforting. That gives, at least to me, the vibe that you really do not want to talk about what I'm going through. You just want to throw out what is, to you, a fix-all and then move on.

That is not helpful.

Look, when you have a child and they're sick, are you going to kneel by their bedside and say, "All right, Jimmy. I'm going to pray for you, and then read this Bible passage to you." Then you do that and leave, without giving him any of the comforts you typically give a child when they're sick - medications, extra blankets, chicken noodle soup, whatever.

No parent would ever think of doing that. Nor would they think of walking up to a man lying on the sidewalk with a broken leg and saying a prayer over them before walking off.

People need to stop treating mental issues and emotional issues as something you can just 'pray away'. We do not do that with physical ailments; why should you do that with mental and emotional ailments?

There isn't medication you can give to someone over the internet or over the phone that will fix their depression or their anxiety. But there is something you can give, and that is comfort. Real, proper comfort that you pour your heart into and show them you love them.

You need to come to terms with the fact that many depressed people (and I'm talking about Christians here) don't want to hear solely about God. *cue the horrified and outraged gasps*

Yeah, you heard me right. As horrible and terrible as it probably sounds to some of you, a depressed person wants to hear comfort and reassurance from someone tangible. Someone they can hear, touch, and get responses from.

Do you understand how it feels to be completely hopeless and to have given up on the world, and then to go to someone you trust for comfort... only to be turned away with a brief 'I'm praying for you'? That makes a person feel worse.

It makes me frustrated at best when I feel like the world is crashing down around me, and the person I go to for comfort sends me away with an alleged promise to pray and a few Bible verses.

It makes me feel alone. Because when I turn to someone I trust and tell them something as deeply personal as 'I want to die', I need comfort. I don't need them going on and on about 'God' and 'Jesus' and 'Bible' and 'pray'. I need them to reassure me that I'm going to be okay, that they're willing to listen to me vent no matter what, that they love me. I need them to give practical advice.

"I'll pray for you" by itself doesn't help because it makes me feel like I'm being pushed away like some little child with a 'later, dearie, I'm too busy to listen to you right now'.

"I'll pray for you" by itself doesn't help because it makes me feel alone.

"I'll pray for you" by itself doesn't help because it sometimes feels condescending and judgmental - because I'm not a good enough Christian due to the fact I don't place everything in God's hands.

"I'll pray for you" by itself doesn't help because it makes me feel inferior.

"I'll pray for you" by itself doesn't help because I gain no comfort from that.

"I'll pray for you" by itself doesn't help because I have trust issues and I have no idea whether you really will.

"I'll pray for you" by itself doesn't help because I need comfort, reassurance, and advice from someone I can talk to face to face.

It doesn't help by itself. A person comes to you for comfort, not a quick promise they have no certainty you'll keep or not.

The next time someone is upset and comes to you for comfort, try to give them something more than a few overused Bible verses and a promise, unless you know for sure that it helps them. Don't act like you can pray away their problems without doing anything else to help.

Make an effort to show that you truly care about them personally, to invest energy in them instead of passing them off to Someone who can't personally speak to or hug them.

Show them you truly care by investing time in them.

God bless,
Theodora Ashcraft

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