I recently had a medical incident causing my family members to send a rare contact. Most were thoughtful; but a few had to add they were praying for me. One went on and on about it.
I never know how to respond to this. Do I say, “Thank you”? I know this is how they handle difficulties and to them they are offering me a great and wonderful gift. “We took time out of our busy, busy commute when we would much rather be listening to local newscasters telling us once again the weather to turn off the radio and talk out-loud to a God who apparently needs constant reminding that humans actually like to be healthy and not in hospitals.”
I understand it is comforting to them. Not so much directions to a God, but a way of feeling like they are doing something rather than nothing and feeling useful.
Yet I can’t bring myself to say, “Thank you.” See—I am NOT thankful they are praying for me. I don’t care whether they are praying for me or not. Actually, rather than waste the time praying, I would rather they spend a 5:1 ratio in talking to me rather than praying about me. For every 5 minutes they spent talking to God, if they spent 1 minute e-mailing me it would be far more beneficial.
And I don’t think praying is doing anything. I view it much the same way as if they said, “Every time I mow the yard and go around a tree, I am going to scream out your name. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Sure,” I would reply, slowly backing away.
And I could almost understand if they didn’t know me. Almost. Because of sheer numbers, it could be presumed the other person is a Christian and would appreciate the concept of being prayed for. Even though it is still presumptuous; it is a natural reaction.
They know I am an atheist. They know I find their prayers of little meaning. As if they are reiterating, “See? We are Christians and we want to subtly remind you once again of what that means.” To them it has meaning, truth and depth; and since it is true, my own personal feelings on the matter must take a far, far second to their “truth.”
But to me—atheism is true. Does this justify my making some smary comment in reply? “Hey, your prayers really helped. Well…in addition to the medicine. And the Doctors. And the Nurses. And the diagnostic machines. And the technology available to us today. I’m sorry—what was it you said you did again?”
If their “truth” trumps courtesy; can mine?
Or another example. My hospital roommate was a devoted Christian. I heard him praying out loud. As we talked, it was not a surprise when he started to share his faith. I became real silent. How do you tell an 82-year-old man who is having health difficulties his hope of an afterlife is pure fantasy? As make believe as Dungeons and Dragons? At one point he said, “Make sure you take the Great Physician with you. You know who that is, right?”
After a dramatic pause: “Jesus.”
The first thought crossing my mind was, “Well, I hope he has studied up some, ‘cause medicine has really changed in the past 2000 years.” The second thought was, “I wonder if my roommate knows how health was viewed in First Century Mediterranean, and it was a disassociation with one’s place in society, and not an illness as we understand it.” My third thought was “Er….thank you?” My fourth thought, the one I went with, was silence.
I find these statements awkward.
So what do you say? What do you think I should say?