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A colleague of mine commented me the other day he is having a serious family issue. (An important sickness brought a relative very close to death.) As a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer. As such, I want to offer to him my prayers for his family, that is to say, the crux of this is informing the person that I am praying, and that I consider that valuable. Yet, I know he is an atheist (not sure exactly the "type" of atheist he is).

How can I declare my effort to help with prayer, without offending him? He is not an intimate friend (with sufficient confidence for me to raise the issue directly), but rather a friendly colleague.

Notice I am praying for his family anyway (freedom of religion). But, just like someone might be comforted by friends expressing secular forms of support (e.g. "my thoughts are with you"), they can also be comforted by religious forms of support (e.g. "I keep you in my prayers"). In the end, someone might say, what matters is that people care for you.

Hence my aim to explicitly declare to my colleague my prayers for his family, and not just merely to do it at his back. I don't want to hide my faith or lie, which I see as an extreme act of political correctness.

  • 9
    Hello network visitors! Please note that IPS is fairly strict about using comments as intended. Comments are only for clarifying and improving the question. Partial answers or general thoughts about the situation may be deleted without notice. If you'd like to write an answer, make sure to check out our posts on How do I write a good answer? and citation expectations first. Thanks! – Em C Nov 22 at 22:04
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    I don't think that this is an answerable question at this stage. We need more details about what "type" of atheist he is. Because many atheists have widely varying opinions on this subject your colleague could take your comment any way. The below answers are all good in their own respects but without any more detail, there's no telling which one should have the outcome you desire. I'm glad you care about your colleagues feelings in this respect and I do hope that they return the favor. – Reimus Klinsman Nov 22 at 22:16
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    What are you trying to achieve by telling him at you're not just thinking about him, but explicitly that you're praying for him? If prayer works, I'm sure it would work whether or not he knew about it. So why not let it just "work behind the scenes"? – Alexander - Reinstate Monica Nov 23 at 1:43
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    Addendum to my earlier comment about deleting comments (meta!) - comments on answers also need to stick to suggesting improvements or asking constructive questions. Comments that do neither and simply state why you disagree with an answer will be removed. If you disagree with an answer, please express that with your votes, and consider writing a better answer if your views are not already expressed in the existing set. – Em C Nov 23 at 18:19

14 Answers 14

223

I am an atheist myself so I'm going to answer it as if you would say it to me:

I'm an atheist, which means that heaven/hell/praying have no value (good nor bad, just void) to me. The act of praying is of no benefit to me, nor will I see it like that, despite what you think.

What I can see is the gesture. It means you're thinking of me, wishing good for me, want to help. I can understand that it has value to you and you're choosing to 'spend the credit' on my problems and that you care. That would have value to me and I would appreciate that.

I suggest that if you talk to your colleague, you put a little less emphasis on the praying part and a bit more on caring part. You could go for a casual "how's it going?" and end the conversation with a simple "I'll keep you and your family in my prayers :)".

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As Martjin describes it, I'm a more "extreme" atheist, in that I probably would be offended by a Christian offering to pray for me, especially if they knew I was an atheist. So I offer this as an alternative perspective which may or may not be relevant, depending on how "extreme" of an atheist the person you're asking about is.

This answer may come off as dismissive - I've done my best to reaffirm the value of the intention behind the prayer, but I also need to stress my perspective on prayers for the sake of the answer. If it reads as too hostile, then I apologize.

My perspective

Ultimately, when prayer is offered, it reads to me as a meaningless gesture meant to placate your sense of need to act, not as a genuine offer of help. You feel powerless in the face of some hardship, and all you can do is ask a higher power to intercede. This isn't a bad thing, in and of itself - oftentimes, there really is nothing you personally can do, especially in medical situations like what you've described. I've been around Christians long enough to understand that's the underlying feeling.

But, because I don't believe in that higher power, asking them to intercede feels no more reassuring or helpful than using some snake oil cure would. And, like when a person forgoes medical treatment in favor of using essential oils, it feels like prayers can sometimes end up being a way to "act" which causes you to forgo actual, positive action.

Additionally, and less importantly, if you know I'm an atheist, and therefore this is my perspective, it can feel invalidating to have someone pray for me against my wishes. It feels like being told "I know better than you." Which is a gross feeling, especially when you're both adults.

My suggestion

I think the ideas behind these kinds of prayers can be noble. It can express a genuine desire to help, and a genuine sorrow that you don't have the tools necessary to do so. I would propose a few questions to ask yourself before you do so, as a check of what your intentions are.

  1. Can you do something constructive in this world, with your own direct actions? These can be simple things like offering a listening ear, or more concrete actions like donating to medical fund or helping with planning.
  2. Is it appropriate for you to offer and take the actions in 1? Have they asked for help, or are you sufficiently close to make the offer unsolicited? The answer to this very well may be no, especially if the other person is a coworker.
  3. Would it be more helpful to offer that help, and leave off that you're praying for them entirely? With the understanding that they will appreciate the help more than they'll appreciate the prayers.

From my perspective, if the answer to any of these questions is no, then it doesn't seem appropriate to offer prayers either. If a prayer is material help, in the form of intercession from your god, then that help is only appropriate if other similar actions would also be appropriate and welcome.

But, as you've expressed that you want to offer prayers regardless, then here is what I would suggest. Start by expressing sympathy for the difficult situation. Then offer any direct help which is appropriate and you're able and willing to actually follow through on. Finally, as a closing statement, say that you will be praying for them, and wish them a full recovery.

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I am an atheist who recently lost 4 close family members in a very short period. Most of my friends and family are theist and specifically Christian so this scenario came up a lot and I wanted to share my perspective.

General feelings on "I'll keep you in my prayers"

At any time, I find this statement awkward. It feels like a little kid saying they will ask Santa to help. I know the intention is good, but it leaves me in a weird spot. There isn't really a good response that doesn't either make me acquiesce some on my feelings about religion or end up coming of as dismissive of what was intended as a kind gesture. Saying "thank you" implies that you are thanking them for the prayer, which I do not generally respect as a practice. Saying "ok" seems dismissive. If the person isn't a close friend or if the reason for the prayer is more casual, I will generally go with "thanks for thinking of me" to try and strike a middle ground.

I think part of the reason it feels so weird for me is because it feels like the other person's religion is being expressed in a way where if I express my views in return, I'll come off like a jerk. "I'll keep you in my prayers" is supposed to be a nice statement so an honest response of "I don't believe in that" comes off mean. My guess is at least some of the atheist friends referenced in other answers by theists feel similarly so they say "thank you" and act like they don't mind because they don't want to hurt the friendship. The end result though is an action intended to comfort ends up making me feel a little stiffed.

Particular problems around death

Many atheists used to be religious and for many of them the ways religions handle death can be particularly irritating in retrospect. Add to it that the person is probably going to be more emotional when dealing with death and illness and the gesture intended to comfort may end up being more like "salt in the wounds". For me it felt condescending when I was going through a very emotional time hearing that my friends would ask their (from my perspective) imaginary friend for help. You have to remember, you think you are right about this, but from the other person's perspective the whole idea is likely silly. In particular for those who know I am atheist it can sometimes even come off like they are trying to tell me they are right on the whole topic (due partially to my own emotional state and partially to how it is delivered). The whole thing makes me want to ask:

Why do you feel the need to tell them?

In general, I assume that when I am going through a tough time my religious friends are praying for me. I know and understand that is part of how they express their love and concern for me. I don't understand why they feel like they need to tell me about it. What is the response you are expecting to get from the other person? Based on the fact you are even asking this question, you know and understand that this statement may make the other person uncomfortable. If your goal is to be supportive why not pray for them but tell them "You're in my thoughts" or something else that won't risk making a hard time for them harder? The need to tell the other person you are praying seems selfish and like you are letting comforting this person take a backseat to expressing your religious beliefs. This goes double since this person is just an acquaintance making it much less likely they will feel comfortable talking to you about it if you make them uncomfortable.

Addendum This answer focuses mostly on reactions to friends prayers because, I felt very differently about family. My family had also just lost loved ones, so if they felt they needed to express their religious beliefs to cope, I felt it was my job to support them including bowing my head respectfully during family prayers. This however is another reason why it may be more important for outsiders not to express their religion to atheists at this time. They are may already be feeling suppressed by others grieving around them.

  • As I said, I want to let the other person know that I am empathic to his situation, as a comfort/support to him. I just cant see why, in principle, I would need to lie and let the other person know a secular version of what I'm doing. In fact, from a mere probabilistic perspective, if there is a God that listen to prayers and act upon them, my claim is by definition more helpful than keeping someone in "our thoughts", a truly void expression. – luchonacho Nov 23 at 19:31
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    @luchonacho I'm not suggesting you lie, but if your goal is to provide comfort to this individual, talking about your religious practices with this person is likely to be neutral to contrary to this goal. Not bringing it up isn't lying in the same way that this person not telling you they think your prayers are useless isn't lying, it's being polite. If you can't find a reason it benefits the other person to tell them in this difficult time, you may need to re-examine your motives. – Barker Nov 23 at 22:19
  • "If you can't find a reason it benefits the other person to tell them in this difficult time" I can. I care and offer support in a way (not necessarily the only or exclusive way) I think it is relevant, even if we might disagree. I just want to know how to put it to minimise misunderstandings and an unecessary offense, without need to deny myself. – luchonacho Nov 23 at 22:24
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    @luchonacho my suggestion is that now is likely not the best time to be presenting your religious beliefs to this person. There are other contexts and forums where you absolutely should feel free to talk about and discuss them, but now should be about what is best for the other person. In the same way, now is not the place for a debate on the existence of God. Luchonacho, you came in good faith for help and were attacked, and I'm sorry. It does illustrate the problem of bringing up religious views in the wrong context from the other side. – Barker Nov 24 at 15:11
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Don't talk about your prayer life in public, in general. Jesus said not to.

Besides the points that some other people have made about informing him of your desire to pray for him making him uncomfortable, there's another issue, here: You identify as a Christian, so presumably you hold the words of Jesus as being the highest authority on these issues. So, I'll quote a few of His words for you, from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 6 (verses 1-8):

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

If you want to help him, either materially or through prayer, that's fine, but don't make a spectacle about it or virtue signal about it.

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    While well-intentioned, this is not generally applicable, since it relies on a Christian authority talking about Christian practice and does not address the IPS aspect of things. – Dancrumb Nov 23 at 16:23
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    @Dancrumb: I think the final sentence of the answer already addresses your objection, although maybe it could be expanded on. The point is that it's distasteful for A to take B's misfortune and instead of focusing on empathizing with B and maybe helping B (emotionally, or, in giving to to poor, materially), turn the spotlight back on themselves and say, "I, A, am super wonderful. Please recognize how holy and generous I am." Although Jesus is saying that heaven is the reward for virtue (a Christian POV), this is not so different from "virtue is its own reward" (a secular POV). – Ben Crowell Nov 24 at 21:50
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    @Dancrumb The OP specified that they were Christian, so it's an answer to their specific question. – nick012000 Nov 25 at 3:33
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    It's applicable to other Christians. Even if most people are not Christians, a whole lot of them are. Thus this answer is well suited for a very large target audience. – Kapten-N Nov 25 at 14:48
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    I have no wish to get into an extended doctrinal debate with you as this is not the place for it, but I feel you're premise is flawed. Jesus did indeed indicate we should not be publicly attempting to appear pious in front of others, but there is no indication to me that is OP's motive here. (See also for contrast 2 Timothy 1:3 where the apostle Paul explicitly tells Timothy that he prays constantly for him, presumably out of much the same motives as OP, to offer comfort and encouragement.) – jmbpiano Nov 25 at 19:38
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If this comes off harshly, I apologize. I’m merely trying to state my often discussed (between friends and family) thoughts and opinions succinctly; though brevity sounds sharp.

I’m a Christian, and I resent it when people offer me prayers in my times of need; especially in a public or work setting. (And even in a private setting, but especially the other two.)

“Faith without works is dead.” - James 2:26

Like the atheists have eloquently said, I generally think that offering prayers amounts to asking a fairy godmother for things; and that the act of offering a prayer does satisfy the psychological void of needing to take action for some Christians.

In my opinion, a Christian who offers prayers just gave themselves permission to do nothing, and point fingers when things don’t go well. This, as a Christian, has been my experience. I sympathize with the annoyance and anger of atheists with empty offers of prayer from Christians.

Pray for your co-worker, and don’t tell them about it. If God truly is real, and I believe he is, he’ll listen anyway.

Helping your co-worker without pushing your beliefs is far more Biblically Christian than offering a prayer to them during a vulnerable time. That’s just manipulative and self-congratulatory (to me).

BUT offer care for your co-worker, and don’t expect “Christian points.” Perhaps wear a visible (and humble) cross, or rosary, while doing something for them but don’t make a big deal out of it while you serve their needs. Offer something you can do to affect change in their situation by meeting their needs.

Christ’s ministry is a call to action, not a call to prayer. Christ met people’s needs. He healed the sick and fed the hungry.

“Can I pray for you?” - #notwhatjesuswoulddo

Not once did Jesus offer mere prayers to anyone as a form of help or condolence; instead he took action, sometimes praying while he did. Like Christ, meet your co-worker’s needs, and don’t offer meaningless prayers. But pray for them anyways.

———

PS, here’s some red-letter, King James, Sermon on the Mount Jesus:

“When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathens do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7, KJV)

Emphasis mine.

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I'd like to offer my opinion as a seminarian.

"is it rude to offer prayers to an atheist"? How would you feel if a Buddhist offered a meditation for you? Or a Zoroastrian offered help in their religious form? It's all about how your beliefs impact the other party.

We as Christians believe in prayer and acknowledge its power. At the same time, if we insist on doing it for people that don't want it, I think we become oppressive when we don't respect other people's wishes.

in the end, it all depends on the individual and the spirit you offer your prayers in. If it's a genuine desire for God to help, you're doing it in love, and the other party will accept your prayers, then I don't think it's rude. If, on the other hand, we do what too many of our co-believers do and say "Ha! God's powerful and he's going to heal you whether you want it from Him or not!" then I'd say we're being rude and oppressive.

So... how do I handle this? I ask the individual "Can I ask a favor? Can I pray for you?" I try to approach this from a position of humility. Then, what I do is up to them. If they see that I really care and want to ask God for his Help, then that's fine. Generally folks are of the opinion "You can do whatever" in that case.

I would also suggest reading @martijn's response for an atheists's perspective on this and read these in conjunction with each other.

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    "Can I ask a favor? Can I pray for you?" could put the other person in an awkward position. They're going through a serious issue, and you begin by asking them for a favor, which puts a burden on them to respond instead of you being there for them. Then they have to either say yes, either sincerely or simply to avoid a confrontation, or say no, which creates conflict at a moment when they already have enough trouble in their lives. Or "You can do whatever," which is likely a conflict-avoidant answer because they're uncomfortable with the question. – Zach Lipton Nov 22 at 23:55
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    I had always understood "can I ask you a favor" as a rhetorical technique to encourage the person towards your beliefs, or get their attention for follow up conversations, by putting them on the spot. So I agree that it carries a risk of offense. Of course, each person will take things differently. – Dan Getz Nov 23 at 3:14
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Don't !

Others have commented already along this line, but I feel they are pulling their punches. I'll phrase the following as friendly as I can, but without dilluting the message.

I am a militant atheist in the sense of Dawkins. If your friend is feeling strongly about their atheism, this answer applies to them.

If I were to go through a difficult personal situation, especially if it involves death, I would absolutely, 100% for sure, definitely not want to have any religious (censored) injected into the situation. I would certainly be offended if someone offered me prayers, magic rituals, voodoo or a seance.

At best, I would ignore them and just make a mental note that they're assholes (1).

More likely, especially since in such a situation willpower is low and I'd already be dealing with stuff, I would snap at them. It's quite likely that they'd become the target of all my ire and unhappiness and I would lash out and make sure they get just how angry I am about them abusing my real grief to push their religious agenda. In that situation, I would not make a fine difference between kindly offering prayer and shoving a bible into my face and telling me to repent. I'd be busy with the death of a loved one and it'd be all the same to me.

Why ?

"Death is where they get you", forgot who the quote is from. Religions are always about preying on the weak, and people are weak when they suffer a personal loss and death is the biggest of them. Death of your loved ones and fear of your own death. All religions have something to say about death. Especially christianity is so focussed on it that Nietzsche and others have called it a "death cult".

If you can take that perspective even for a moment, you understand why a death situation is where we atheists want to be reminded of religion the least. Keep that stuff away from us, as far as possible.

Instead

Think which actual support you can offer.

As an atheist, someone telling me he will pray - for me, for the latest terrorism victims, for the environment, whatever - is basically someone telling me he's not offering any actual help - and announcing that as if it were something to be proud of!

If you are interested in supporting your colleague, offer him some actual help. There is always something that you can actually do. He has his thoughts on this matter now. Can you help him with some difficult project at work? Can you do something for him in his private life? Can be as simple as running an errand or doing his shopping for him on a day he needs to tend to funeral preparations. It can be having a beer after work to talk, if he needs it.

If you have no idea, offer him actual help instead and ask if there is something that you can do.

If I were in this situation, I would remember anyone who offered me actual help, even the smallest bit, as a good person who was there when I needed them.


(1) not meant as an insult here. If a native English speaker knows of a better word to express a strong dislike, please edit.

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    Why are you (and honestly, many others) assuming my only way of showing support is through prayer? Prayer is in no way mutually exclusive to other ways of support. In my experience, they are actually directly proportional. Also, your definition of "actual support" differs from mine. Fair enough. – luchonacho Nov 24 at 12:54
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    I think Tom's point was that this would potentially be the definition of "actual support" used and appreciated by the person you're offering it to. The support isn't for you, it's for them. – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 24 at 20:07
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    @luchonacho - because you don't mention offering any other help. – Tom Nov 24 at 21:24
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Another atheist here.

As other answers have already discussed, different atheists will feel differently about this kind of thing. I won't rehash what those answers have said, but I do want to add: the content of the prayer is very important.

Some years back, I was going through a rough time in my life - deaths in the family and other unpleasant stuff. One of my best friends, who knew I was an atheist, told me "I'm praying for you".

I'm pretty easy-going about such things. I took it as a friendly gesture of sympathy, just as if she had said "I'm sorry things are bad for you and I hope it gets better soon." I don't believe prayer actually changes things, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Some years later, she told me that she hadn't been praying for things to get better for me. She explained with a story along these lines:

In ancient times, if there was a sheep that is constantly running off and being chronically disobedient, the Shepherd would break its legs so that it could no longer run off for its own good and protection. Once done, the Shepherd would nurse the sheep back to health so that it would come to love and trust the Shepherd

(quoted from this site which is a rebuttal of that particular story)

In other words, she considered these tragedies in my life as part of God's plan to bring me to Jesus, and she had been praying, not that they would stop, but that I'd get the message and convert. And then, she believed, God would stop hurting me.

I found this deeply offensive and disrespectful, because her "prayers" completely ignored my own preferences and values. It was entirely about bringing me around to her way of thinking, making me into the person she wanted me. I came to realise that she was utterly certain of her own view of things and unwilling or unable even to empathise with mine, to understand how monstrous that kind of "prayer" is from my perspective.

That was effectively the end of our friendship.

So if I was your friend, the question I'd want you to ask yourself is: are you praying for something that your friend would actually welcome? "Lord, please give my friend comfort" is a very different proposition from "Lord, please hurt my friend until he comes to Jesus".

17

First of all, I'm a strong atheist myself,

But even I, who is strongly against theism, I definitely wouldn't be offended if anyone declared that he prayed for me. Even if I think that it's a waste of time, it's obvious that the only thing that this person means is that they care for me and want to help me to get better.

If it was about a person in mortal danger (or any stressful situation), the situation would be different : I believe that in those extreme cases of Life and Death, the possible Nocebo Effect of Prayer may actually be increase the stress of the person between life and death : "I'm in such a bad state that people need to pray for me so that I survive !". And may sadden a bit that person. I may just be too negative, but as you care about that person mental being, it may be very slightly better to keep the fact that you pray for you. In that situation, I think that it would be better to ask permission/thoughts before declaring that you pray for that person (but you definitely don't need to ask in order to include people in your private prayers)

To conclude, I concur with Martijn's answer : only an extreme atheist would be offended, anybody else would be able to see that the only thing you're trying to convey is that you care about them, but depending on how they consider religion, there may be situations where it could slightly sadden an atheist to tell them that you pray for them.

13

Gary Chapman wrote in The Five Love Languages about how to express compassion.

Specifically, he talks about the different ways in which people express compassion. It's important to understand that how you show compassion and how others receive compassion can be different, and these differences can result in missed messages.

In a close, intimate relationship, give and take is essential. Recognizing how your partner is expressing their love and accepting that expression in their language is necessary.

In a professional relationship, the onus is on you to express your compassion in a way that is receivable by your colleague. Your goal is to show that you feel empathy for your colleague. You want them to know that their well-being is in your thoughts. So tell them just that. Consider how you think they would best receive this information and go with that.

  • Doubly relevant example because Chapman is somebody of strong religious belief (Baptist pastor) writing in a way that's empathic and useful to people who may not share those beliefs. – Geoffrey Brent Nov 26 at 23:13
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"Don't talk to him about God; talk to God about him."

— My Christian mother about my atheist father

In anything with love for others, whether romantic, family, or friends, we often want to tell others about our positive hopes and feelings, but love knows when to shut up.

Just respect your coworker. Don't even declare your choice to shut up about God. If you want to pray for anyone to have any kind of happier life, by all means do it!

But, that's the thing about what prayer claims to be...

Supposedly, prayer makes a difference. If we have to tell others we pray for them for prayer to work, then prayer doesn't really work. If you believe prayer makes a difference, then let prayer work how it claims to: between you and God. If it really works, you won't need to tell people what you pray for because it will happen without saying so.

How can I declare my effort to help with prayer, without offending him?

Just don't declare it to him. That is badgering. As Edith Bunker said to Archie, "[If it's God's business,] then you let God handle it."


My background:

Just a few days ago, my mother and I were talking about how we can't badger people into changing. We recalled and shared stories from dad, how he taught us as Christians while he was still an adamant atheist. We have lots of friends and family, Christian and non-Christian, who have money troubles and religious questions of all sorts. We only want them to be more responsible with money and be nicer to others as a reflection of them finding peace in their hearts. Mom and I have both learned, as we just discussed: Pray silently, love others, respect them, and be glad for any small way anyone finds more happiness.

I am a Christian, my father was atheist/agnostic (he himself said he changed through his life, I understand the difference). 8 years before he died, he had his own religious experience all by himself and became a "Christian" in his own way, on his own terms, not the result of us proselytizing and pestering.

Not that this is a goal, but we must love people as we let everyone find and choose their own way.

Currently, I am in Asia with family friends, a bordering-depression/suicidal teenager who became Christian on their own and approached me for Christian teaching (bec. I was a Bible major in college), who has a nihilist father (sometimes called atheist or agnostic by his family). The mom and dad love their teenager, but all these worldviews make things a little complex...

Our friend-conflict...

In talking with the teen regularly, I address three ideas from Christian-Bible tradition. (skip if boring) 1. "God loves us, thus we have value", 2. "Love others as yourself, then you will be happier", 3. "Get deep satisfaction by pressing-through-hardship, not despite it". Those help the teenager be happier and more stable; both the mother and father thank me at times for helping with the improvement in their teenager (everyone is helping everyone, it's complex). But, the father, my friend, is concerned that my conversations are too Bible-heavy. I myself strongly believe in arguing for both sides of a debate, like "nihilism-to-atheism v Christian-theism" because a belief can only help us if we really understand all sides of it—and I want to help everyone for real, not just make minions who parrot what I say while still depressed inside. But, if I try to explain that to the father, my friend, he doesn't want to listen and ends that specific conversation. I only guess it is because Christians have a well-earned reputation of "trying to sell Amway" so to speak. But, I'm not; and I don't "go to church", so I am not trying to "rack up convert points". I just want to help a family friend with what a. I am trained in from college and b. has been working in this situation. But, I can't say that to the father, my friend, without him feeling pushed.

...That's our friendship conflict.

For me with that father, I don't talk about any touchy topic unless asked. Even with the teen about Christian teaching, I never say, "This belief is true," but, "This is the Bible's opinion/teaching; you don't need to agree." (I say that almost every time.) I am very big on not brainwashing people about religion. Even if I believe something is true, I do not decide that for anyone else. I just represent myself when asked and BE a Christian in my work and social conduct. Truth is truth, but no one knows truth fully. And, the important thing about truth is that we each recognize truth on our own without being pushed, otherwise it's pointless.

Sometimes, the father, my friend, gets a little offended and upset, misunderstanding what I say...

I just leave it be and keep respecting him.

We remain friends and only become better friends because I don't try to "fix" him. I want to let him know the truth about my actual opinion about a few things, but that would be pushy. Respecting his desire to not talk about religion is DOING the "Christian" thing (for my part) and not just badgering about it.

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    I found the last paragraph and the one beginning with "Supposedly, prayer makes a difference" sums it up nicely. The rest is a little much to read as answer to this question. I found it interesting to read your background, but I think you could hightlight your important points more, put them on the top and maybe shorten thte whole thing. IMHO – Sybille Peters Nov 30 at 14:15
  • Thanks. I'll sleep on it, for real. – Jesse Steele Nov 30 at 14:16
4

I take an agnostic rather than atheist view of this. I'm quite content not to know whether or not there is a god or an afterlife, and I see no reason to assume that Christians are any closer to the truth about such things as any other religion.

I would basically take the view that in the final analysis, you are doing whatever you want to do for your psychological benefit, not for mine. That's perfectly OK by me, so long as you don't make a public display of it while I'm around.

Of course, I know people who are religious, of various faiths and different degrees of commitment. And it would be no great surprise if some of them decided to pray for me. But the idea of them "offering to me their prayers" or "declaring their effort to help by prayer" is just meaningless nonsense so far as I'm concerned.

That said, a bit of humour is often appropriate. A couple of years back, I was in hospital recovering from emergency surgery, and a few months later was there again for a 7-hour operation to fix the problem properly, rather than just keep me alive. Having made a remarkably quick recovery from that second procedure, one of my Christian friends remarked, "Well, I guess somebody upstairs doesn't want to put up with having you around just yet". Joke understood, and appreciated a lot more than a bedside prayer meeting!

2

There are 2 definitions for "sensitivity" in this context. The first is demonstrated by the OP: Empathetic sensitivity to another person's feelings. The second is demonstrated by OP's fears (and sadly some other respondents to this question): Emotional sensitivity to systems of thought and belief that are not our very personal, private own.

I'm more often guilty of the 2nd one than the first, myself. As a Christian, there are some things I feel prayer is just not appropriate for. It can be an analogue for using a cannon to kill a mosquito. There are also some people who I wouldn't want praying for me, sometimes because I'm judgmental and I don't think they're good at being Christians (so I expect whoever answers their prayer is someone I don't want any favors from) but sometimes just because it isn't any of their business.

Some alternative phrases that cover all the "sensitivity" bases cleanly and aren't particularly interpretable or objectionable no matter what the other person believes or disbelieves, no matter what that person thinks of you or how they qualify your personal relationship:

  • "God Bless You" -> "I wish all the good things in the world for you."

  • "You're in my prayers" -> "I worry how you're doing, physically and emotionally and I think about you often. I hope that if you need any help or support at all, no matter what it is, you'll ask me if I can provide it."

Aside of all that, look at Matthew 6:5 in your New Testament.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

They aren't praying - it's just for show. They've been seen - that's all their prayer's worth (because that's all they really wanted, no matter what they said) so that's all their prayer is going to get them.

I believe that what Matthew says is that telling the guy about it, atheist or not, nerfs the act of praying for him in the first place.

1

Please read about the 7 states of grief. The best you can offer now is: nothing!

Everyone goes through the 7 stages and everyone does so differently. I'm not a therapist or anything but from the experience with it from the past, the best you can do is step aside.

This doesn't mean step away. Be there at your colleagues side and LISTEN! This is most often what people want. They don't even want an opinion, feedback, etc. If he asks a question answer honestly in your opinion, even if it's with religious connotation. The last thing such a person could need is someone not being honest.

I've done this in the past and always received very warm feedback that I was the only one who listened and it helped them much.

  • I wasn't precise enough. No one died, but an important sickness brought a relative very close to death. – luchonacho Nov 24 at 13:19
  • 2
    Isn't it five stages of grief? Or are you referring to an other model? If so, could you link it, please? – Arsak Nov 25 at 16:27
  • Seems it's 5 or 7 stages depending on how you count them. I can't seem to link on the phone but you can Google 7 states of grieve. – steros Nov 27 at 0:21

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