Practices From the Inside Out: Our Thoughts and Prayers

Practices From the Inside Out: Our Thoughts and Prayers February 17, 2018

Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With You

Our thoughts and prayers need to be a beginning, not a conclusion.

We tell people who have had traumatic experiences they are in our thoughts and prayers. For many of us, it is our way of expressing our empathy and support for them. It may even be accurate when we actually think about them and pray for them.

I do not believe thinking and praying are bad or wrong in and of themselves. Thoughts and prayers can be powerful. When we think and pray we open ourselves to new ways of behaving.

The deeper significance of our thoughts and prayers is when they spark us to take action.

Some of us experience offering our thoughts and prayers as an easy way to respond. We apparently believe taking time to think and pray is an end result.

It changes us when we spend time thinking and praying. Reflection and prayer are not band-aids we use to hide problems, even from ourselves.

We become more open when we think and pray, not less.

Thinking and praying help us see things in new ways. As we reflect and pray we hear the deeper, sacred truths which give us a new perspective. Problems which may have seemed impossible to solve often suggest new ways forward.

The challenge for those of us who think and pray is finding ways to help. What are the lessons we gain by reflecting and praying? How can we best act to put those lessons into practice?

What steps do our thoughts and prayers guide us to take?

Is it actually possible to offer someone in trouble or despair our thoughts and prayers without doing anything to help?

It frustrates us when the thoughts and prayers people offer do not seem to affect their actions.

Why Do Our Thoughts and Prayers Frustrate Us?

Part of our frustration is that people on both sides of political divides offer their thoughts and prayers. If they are truly reflecting and praying, why do the seemingly permanent obstacles never move?

We may want to take a deeper look at exactly how people are thinking and praying.

Another aspect of our frustration is when we expect our reflection and praying to create change. People often ask why God allows certain things to happen. They may expect God to prevent natural disasters or random acts of violence and terror.

I do not believe reflection and prayer are mechanisms to persuade God or change God’s mind. We may want God to take more direct responsibility for how things are in the world. It seems to me, though, God allows us to take responsibility for our own actions.

I am not saying God does not care about us, or for us. There are plenty of ways the world around us is filled with miracles. Part of making our own choices, though, is taking responsibility for what happens.

Another way our reflection and prayer can frustrate us is discerning what we can do.

We tend to enjoy clear, concise instructions. If God wants us to take certain actions, why not just tell us what to do?

Our frustration, I think, grows from how we misunderstand God and the nature of our relationship. I believe God loves us and wants us to grow. Breaking everything down to bite-sized pieces and force-feeding us is not good for us in the long run.

As our understanding develops we become better listeners. Our reflection and our prayer becomes more attuned to the practical reality of how we relate to God.

Where Do Our Thoughts and Prayers Lead Us?

I do not believe spiritual life, our relationship to God, is based in a checklist or set of rules. Our relationship is a mutual relationship, and sparks us to continue learning.

In the same way our relationships to other people, or to ourselves, develop over time, we develop a relationship to God.

God is more than a list of acceptable responses, more than a set of specific steps to follow. Our relationship is personal.

Each of us learns and grows in our own ways, at our own pace. We develop and strengthen the abilities we need for a healthy relationship. As we learn to listen, to reflect, to pray, our relationship to God becomes more healthy.

As we practice reflecting and praying, we become stronger at hearing God’s voice. We think about and pray for people in desperate situations and discern how we can help.

Spiritual life is not often a dramatic lightning bolt or thunderclap of insight or recognition. Sacred truths are more likely to be whispered into our ears than emblazoned across the sky.

When We Say Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With You

Holding someone or something in our thoughts and prayers is a commitment to be open.

Our reflection and prayer are not ways to force the world to become better. Telling someone our thoughts and prayers are with them means we are committed to them. We are looking and listening for how we can best help them.

Reflecting and praying are not methods for convincing policymakers to change their minds. Spiritual practices are not mechanisms for changing budget decisions or votes.

Our thoughts and prayers are unlikely to transform anyone other than ourselves.

We pray for people whose lives are affected by a hurricane or a school shooting. It may encourage them or comfort them to know we are praying and reflecting.

The point of our thinking and praying is listening to hear how we can make a difference.

Actions we are drawn to take may or may not be decisive in changing a situation. We may or may not change other people’s lives.

Our thinking and praying will change our own lives. We will listen and grow and do what we can to help.

Who is in our thoughts and prayers today?

How will we apply what we hear to take action and help this week?

[Image by HeyItsWilliam]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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