Good Thoughts versus Prayers


Facebook is once again reminding me that today it is a friend’s birthday.  I’m told by the machine, “Send Him Good Thoughts”.  Recently, a community member went through a difficult brain surgery.  On the day of the operation, people sent “good thoughts” to the family and doctors via social media.  What does it mean to send someone good thoughts?  I’m a spiritual person, called and even paid to lead a religious community.  I have a graduate degree in theology from a well-known university.  I’ve studied religion with people from all over the world.  I’ve prayed on holy mountains and in sacred valleys.  I’m telling you:  I have no idea what it means to send someone good thoughts.  It’s a meaningless phrase of vapid nonsense which accomplishes nothing whatsoever.

Let’s break this down.  The sender sends good thoughts.  Don’t put yourself out, sender of benign greetings!  It’s nice of you to remember my birthday with your thoughts.  I appreciate your thinking.  I didn’t want a card or a phone call.  Thoughts, good ones, sent throughout the vast soulless medium of the internet will suffice.  Yes, good thoughts, that’s what I wanted in this age dripping with hate, negativity, and rage.  My day is infinitely better because you thought toward me.

Do you remember when you were a kid and your mom and dad’s birthday rolled around?  You might ask, “Mom, what do you want for your birthday?”  She might pause for a second and say something like this, “I don’t really want anything at all.  You know the best gift you could give me would be for you to go and clean your room or do the dishes after supper tonight.”  That’s not what you wanted to hear.  Because in your mind, you know best, you know that Mom doesn’t really want what she’s just said.  She wants something spectacular.  So what do you do?  You go outside.  Maybe you learn a new trick on your bike.  You practice all afternoon jumping off the end of the driveway and landing in the grass.  This trick was for her!  Or you go back to the kitchen table with crayons and draw a picture which you believe shows how much you love her.  In the end, you do some really cool things, but they are the things you wanted to give her and they bear no resemblance to what she really wanted.

At the end of the day, you take mom outside to the front yard and say, “Look, mom, let me show you this trick I learned for you.”  Perhaps you rush inside and hand her your drawing in hopes it will go up on the refrigerator.  What does mom say?  Of course she says thank you, she loves it, but is it what she hoped for?  No, it’s not.  Is she a little disappointed because no one listened to her?  Yes, she is. She wanted a clean kitchen or you to clean your room.   You did what you wanted to do.  It was ok, but it didn’t really meet mom’s need.

To me, this is the difference between “good thoughts” and “prayers”.  Sending “good thoughts” enables us to forget the real needs at hand.  If all you’re sending is good thoughts, you give people what you want to give them (which may indeed be nothing) instead of stepping back and allowing God to do God’s thing.  No one ever gave their life over ambiguous good thoughts.  Good thoughts are worthless because they are rarely matched with good actions.

Good thought people are rarely disappointed because they never take the risk of praying and having those prayers not answered.  They live in their well-protected good thought bubbles; where everything seemingly balances out in 140 characters, with the right recycled memes, and an endless supply of others addicted to sharing nothing.