Did you pray about it?

How can this be a negative comment?  This took me by surprise at first then I thought about how it came across to me.  I am continuing the list of things not to say.
http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2015/09/28/stupid-phrases-for-people-in-crisis/

The writer of the article shared a personal experience when they were struggling and someone asked, “Did you pray about it?”  The person was in a bad place where prayer was not happening.  So now they felt guilty about not praying about the situation.  In Calvin in Hobbes, Calvin declares there is no situation that is so bad that someone can’t add a little guilt to make it worse.  I realized that the question did the same thing to me more than once.

In my own experience, I felt hurt by the question because I had prayed for so long with no answers that I understood.  I had prayed until my knees hurt.  The question felt like the person was doubting my sincerity in prayer.  However, I also know that prayer works.  Not in the way I expect, but it does work.  So I pondered how can I use this in a kind and helpful way.  I decided it depends how well I know someone.  I once offered on someone else’s blog to pray for them in comments.  The person was deeply offended because they felt prayer was useless and God was cruel.  I apologized for the offense.  I now consider first, how well do I know the person?  Do they share my beliefs?  Do I know their beliefs?  Are there other words of encouragement that I could use that would be soothing for them?  If they do share my beliefs, I think I want to change this phrase to, “May I pray with you?”  There is amazing power in shared prayers.  There is also the quiet, “I’ll pray for you, may I add your name to my prayer circle of friends?”  After reading this article that the phrasing of this statement too easily sounds like a put down or a dismissal of their actions or beliefs.  Prayer is powerful but when a person is hurting how I phrase the suggestion to use prayer can make the difference between lifting or adding to a burden.

On my other blog this received a comment from JB, she had a brain tumor removed last May:

I love that I only take things literally now. If you break down that question it is very simple with no actual judgment. The judgment comes from our filter or expectation that something is wrong with us personally, rather than the situation. Now when asked if I have prayed over a situation or decision I can answer yes or no. But often I have already received a confirmation of what the issue is. The issue is not with the question itself, but with our use of the question and our personalization of other peoples opinions. I did not always live in this space but after my surgery I am very literal. I don’t get suggestion or implied comments. If we take things literally as they are said there is freedom in answering the question. “Have you prayed?” No, but I have felt the promptings of the spirit that I am entitled to as a Child of God. I know that in myself that answer is enough. And, if I have prayed then it is simple to answer “Yes.” Someone else’s point of view may be different but this is my answer. If we, interpret the question rather than answering the question we are placing judgment on ourselves. Judgment that may have never been intended for us. Its time we give ourselves permission to not interpret what others mean, yes this is like asking PTSD sufferers to walk on water, but instead take things at face value. The freedom you can experience is liberating. I hope you can get to that space without brain surgery, that is what it took for me. by JB

Most people do not intend to harm with this comment.  Their concern is genuine, usually.  (My counselor taught me to put qualifiers on almost everything, because he knew there is always an exception for every general rule.)  Most of the feelings of judgement, shaming, hurt, or other emotions come from inside the listener and their experience that usually has nothing to do with, “Did you pray about it?”  On a few occasions, someone comes to me for advice or suggestions with living with long term challenges.  I sometimes check into see if they already received an answer to their prayers but didn’t like the answer so are polling for other choices.   Much of any relationship, I learned from my first counselor, is not so much the message we send out but the message someone else received, implied or intentional.  This is when being in touch with our emotions and our ability to be aware of someone else and their emotional response is so important.  When I was dissociated most of the time it was very difficult for me to be aware of my emotions, another person’s emotions were a complete miss.  I’m thankful that I am progressing that now I am aware that some days for some people, I offer a silent prayer and say nothing at all.

What you focus on makes a big difference: These two pictures were taken with in minutes of each other standing in the same location.  I focused my camera on something different in the same space in front of me.

IMG_5799 IMG_5800

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