Responding To Tragedies: More Than Thoughts and Prayers

Responding To Tragedies: More Than Thoughts and Prayers September 3, 2019

There's a passage in James that says "faith without works is dead." To offer thoughts and prayers without action is exactly that, whether we're talking about climate change, natural disasters, mass shootings, or any other tragedy we could be working to prevent.When tragedy occurs we naturally want to reach out with words of comfort. We have to do better than “thoughts and prayers.”

We’ve been pelted with tragedies — some human created and others of nature — and many of us are reflecting and praying. Texas mass shootings, multiple other mass shootings, Hurricane Dorian, many other hurricanes that left swaths of populated areas devastated, and the deadly California dive-boat fire are just a few of the tragedies we have grieved over in the last few months.

But I’m tired of the “thoughts and prayers” condolences to the victims and their loved ones, and I know I’m not alone.

When these condolences come from elected officials who could create laws to curb violence or provide adequate help to clean up after storms, we cry out

Don’t just tweet your “thoughts and prayers,” DO SOMETHING!

I know I’ve been guilty in the past of tossing out “my thoughts and prayers are with __________.” But no more.

Yes, our positive thoughts help victims of tragedy if those thoughts lead to action.

Yes, our prayers help in a variety of ways. But they help most when they move us to action.

What is needed, though, is national movement toward solutions that eliminate or at least lower gun violence and hate crimes.

What is helpful is a government that swiftly takes action to help communities ravaged by storms, fires and other natural disasters. And once swift action takes place, it would be helpful for our government to embrace what all credible scientists tell us about our own culpability in climate change.

As a spiritual director from the progressive Christian faith tradition, I’m dedicated to thoughts and prayers, so to speak. Prayer is the first action I take when I see or hear news of tragedy. I’ll keep sending positive, life-affirming thoughts and many prayers wherever and whenever possible.

What I will no longer do is glibly post or say to someone “my thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Instead, I will say:

My heart breaks for you. I am praying for the wisdom to do what I can to prevent further tragedies like this. I will work to put that prayer into action.

I will also pray that the people we elect to help our nation prevent or mitigate further tragedies will turn their “thoughts and prayers” into action. And my action will be to research and support those candidates. I encourage you to do the same.

Want to try spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees — regardless of where you live. I can work by phone, Skype, or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me at  or visit Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

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