If Someone Prays for You, or Wants to

it means we *care*.

It’s not an insult.

So many people seem to be offended if I mention that.

Now I sometimes ask, “Would you mind if I said a prayer for you?” Atheists are sensitive about it.

If someone wants to pray for you, please take it as a gesture of goodwill and friendship.

It doesn’t mean we’re trying to convert you, or that we think you need “saving.”

It just means you’re important to us, or if we just met you, that you did or said something that touched us.

It means that we’re thankful for you.

That we want to remember you.


22 comments on “If Someone Prays for You, or Wants to

  1. Now, I personally don’t care if someone says they’re praying for me. But, that being said, what would be wrong with saying “I’m thinking of you”?

    • I understand your point, NotAScientist. I suppose it’s natural for me, like a reflex. I ask for prayers when I am struggling or need some hope. When I’m on the verge of something good and want it to continue. For me, prayers have always been an expression of solidarity– and I’ve seen them work. But I’m aware for some, prayers have a negative, even abusive connotation. What about the idea of prayer is unsettling for you?

  2. I appreciate the sentiment. It’s a nice thought. However, I wonder…

    What would your reaction be if a Wiccan asked, “may I cast a spell for you?” They may have equally friendly intentions, but the Bible has prohibitions against it. Would you be perfectly comfortable assenting to have someone do something which is counter to your faith on your behalf?

    The atheist equivalent would be something like “may I do jumping jacks for you?” The act might make the person doing it feel better, but that’s about it. That’s how an atheist perceives an offer of prayer, when it’s offered in kindness. (Sometimes it’s not.)

    If you are thankful for someone, why offer them something they won’t value? Wouldn’t a direct offer of friendship or concern be more appropriate and more welcome?

    Be well.

    • I have Pagan friends and one of my best friends in college was Wiccan. I think it’s a beautiful religion and have much respect for it. If she, or any other Wiccan, offered such I would take it as gesture of friendship. I wouldn’t worry about any repercussions– I respect the Wiccan Rede. I know that many choose Wicca for the idea of being a solitary practitioner and a love of nature and ritual. Usually they are gentle souls and we get along great.

      If someone wants to do jumping jacks for me, I’ll take all the help I can get! I wrote this post because I have loved Atheists and I seem to attract a lot of them. It’s odd, I seem more compatible with them although I’ve always thought I’m looking for a good Catholic man. Yet this fundamental struggle endures. So I question myself, to try and learn.

      What would be a better way for me to approach this in the future? Usually I am already friends with them or have serious feelings. I’ve been rejected for a relationship by an Atheist who didn’t believe I could commit to him because of his militant Atheism, when his independent mind was the most attractive thing about him. When we were younger, I told him we had no future because of that issue. As I aged I realized there were so many other things about him I loved that I considered religion irrelevant, yet it became a deal-breaker for him. Fascinating but tragic.

    • Also, isn’t spell casting fundamentally similar to prayer? An act of concentration designed to put a wish out into the universe, to bring about change– hopefully a positive one?

      • You’re an unusual Christian to be able to recognize that, kudos to you. It’s exactly that, a request for unseen forces to intervene on your behalf. There’s an old Wiccan joke about two witches talking…

        “I found a great place where they wear robes, burn incense, chant. and sing.”
        “Where is that?”
        “The Catholic church!”

        I would say that an offer to pray for an atheist depends on how well you know them, but also on what exactly you’re praying for. Offering to pray for someone you don’t know has a higher chance of being taken as an insult. If you believe the person has respect for you then asking to pray for their health or prosperity is a good thing. But if you’re praying for the Holy Spirit to make them Christian, then you’re not respecting who they are. To me that kind of prayer is never appropriate, even from friends.

        I would actually suggest a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Jesus said to pray in secret. If you announce what you’re going to do it’s not really secret, is it? Wish them well to their face and in your prayers and you’ve done no harm. If you never mention the prayer part you never risk insulting them. As the Wiccans say, “an it harm none, do what ye will.”

      • I’m enjoying this discussion, I hope we can talk more often! And thank you, I’ve looked into Wicca myself. I’ve always been fascinated– who isn’t? There are many misconceptions, as with every religion. I understand why so many are drawn to a female energy, rather than something paternal. But I must correct your joke, it’s the Roman Catholic Church! đŸ˜‰

        Your perspective is valuable and does shed some light for me. I rarely pray for someone I just met fleetingly unless they made a particular impact on me. Often, I pray for people with whom I’ve lost touch or to whom I feel I owe an amends but feel intimidated or unsure about re-establishing contact. But mostly, it’s those closest to my heart.

        I suppose prayer and spells are parallel in that way. If I’m not sure what decision to make, I say a prayer and look for signs that will guide me. In a way, I use this blog to attract answers to my prayers. I figure if I release what I hope for into the universe, it increases my chance of an answer. And it works.

        I understand your point– that praying for them to find God is an insult. Because that would mean they are spiritually “broken” and need to be healed. But I think that’s where a lot of Atheists take offense that isn’t necessarily intended. Certainly, many Catholics and other Christians use prayer for selfish reasons, to further their egos in having “saved” what they consider a lost soul.

        But I don’t think anyone is broken– I think that’s just the human condition. Being human makes us vulnerable creatures. But there are other Atheists I know who desperately want to believe, who need hope but cannot find it. Maybe they suffer from addiction or depression, or both. They see life as unrelenting pain. They wrestle with suicidal ideation often.

        In those cases, praying for their protection and that they may find comfort is an act of love. It has nothing to do with disrespect, but a deep affection and hope that they find the redemption they seek, however they choose to manifest it.

        And it’s odd that you’re the second person this week to mention praying in secret to me. Most of my prayers are indeed private. But I’m an outgoing person, so what feels most natural to me is to be open about my feelings. And prayers is a wonderful way to connect with other people, if they are open to it.

  3. Lesley says:

    I’m an atheist, and after many years of getting uselessly offended at these things, I’ve come to accept them in the spirit they were intended.
    It’s not different than when I say “I’ll keep you in my thoughts”.
    As an atheist, thank you for keeping everyone at the forefront of your heart and mind, and not judging them based on their religious affiliation. You’re a good egg.

  4. Lesley, I’m glad you get it!! Exactly. You’re welcome. The most passionate relationship of my life was with an Atheist, and I keep attracting them– rather than the good Catholic man I thought I should find. God’s telling me something, I’m just not sure what! lol But my best friends are Atheists, and I love the way they challenge me. They certainly hold you accountable. I do my best to be an example of empathy and I want to reassure Atheists that not every Catholic or Christian is judging them– and that sometimes we suffer the same prejudice for our beliefs, which sucks. I’m not a typical Catholic in many ways. Thank you for commenting and you are a good egg, too.

  5. It’s hard to imagine someone being against the kind of prayer you mention–I wouldn’t be. But for those atheists who are accustomed to bitter arguments with Christians, an offer of prayer is unlikely to be meant or taken kindly. It’s no surprise they would see any such offer in this light.

    I’ve often thought that many Christians have the wrong idea of prayer and religion in general. The prayers I sometimes heard in church were about saving society or pleading for God to end the evils in the world. But society has no soul to save, mankind will always be a little broken and disasters will always occur. Instead, I saw religion as being about an individual’s relationship to God and prayer as the best expression of that. To me, the best possible prayer was to ask for patience, wisdom and understanding, and then the will to act if and when it was received. The nice part is that even an atheist can meditate in search of the same thing.

    That’s why praying in secret is so valuable. To keep even the fact that you will do it to yourself eliminates any chance that saying “I will pray for you” might have been meant to make the person see you more favorably. “Thy will be done” is pretty clear. If God exists and intervenes sometimes as many believe, then he will intervene because he wants to and not because of any request made by others. So really, even between Christians an offer to pray on someone’s behalf is impotent at best.

    My father wanted me to be a preacher. Can you tell?

    • I’ll reply when I get home!

    • I’ve been thinking about this…. last night and today were busy. But I plan to respond tomorrow, I appreciate your patience.

    • Aight, Stan. Here we go!

      I don’t like those kinds of Christians. I’m not one of them. They see Atheists as the enemy, that’s why. I don’t. They may be afraid that their faith will be broken by exposure, so they either avoid Atheists entirely or they try to convert them aggressively and often in a righteous, cruel manner.

      They are wrong.

      The prayers that you’re talking about are nothing like what I’ve grown up hearing. I know that’s common in Baptist sermons. Hellfire! There’s a lot of fear and control. Religion is full of people of all varieties, but so is every other group or setting. It’s up to us to choose who we associate with and what we believe. Not all religion, or believers, use their face to abuse others. Many Atheists are Nihilistic and enjoy putting down believers, trying to break their faith.

      But I don’t assume that about all Atheists. I don’t stereotype them. I like the prayer you’re talking about– patience, wisdom, understanding. Yes. And they say we are TAUGHT those things by having delays in what we want, or not being given it. We learn to get creative and adapt, or sometimes, we are being protected. Sometimes something BETTER awaits us. That’s a hard concept to grasp for a lot of people. I know a former Atheist who is now a Buddhist. He loves it. Christianity is not for everyone.

      But I disagree about praying in secret. I think the idea behind the Bible is in your intent. If you make a big point about praying to make it seem like you’re a “GOOD” person, to get credit– that’s selfish. But if you’re praying because you genuinely want to HELP someone, that’s different. There’s tremendous power in group prayer.

      Prayer absolutely can be creepy. But it can also be healing, with the right people.

      I don’t like your use of the word “impotent” about prayer. Don’t bring sexuality into the conversation– that has no relevance. Prayer is also not powerless. If you believe it’s powerless, that’s your opinion, but it’s not reality.

      My father wants me to be a nun. I’m with ya. I’m not surrendering THAT fully just yet!

      • I have two friends who are Buddhist atheists. The two are not mutually exclusive.

        Impotent is defined as “1. lacking power or ability, 2. utterly unable, 3. without force or effectiveness.” The sexual connotation is only one alternate meaning and not the way I intended it in this usage.

        In my Lutheran confirmation class, I asked my preacher about how God answers prayers, and he said there are three possibilities: yes, no and wait. That is a short version of what you just described. It occurred to me at the time though I wasn’t going to argue the point was that these are the same three answers you would get if you prayed to a rock. They are in fact the only three possible outcomes for any desire or wish we might state, no matter how we do it.

        I’m not trying to belittle your response, but my realization about his “yes, no, wait” response was jarring to me at the time, and probably my first significant step towards atheism.

      • Buddhist Atheists are da bomb.

        I’m fully aware of all the meanings of that word, but it’s most commonly used with innuendo. And NOTHING about God meets any of those definitions, so it’s incorrect on all counts.

        That Lutheran preacher was right. But here’s another way to think about it. I asked a Catholic nun, who’s very sharp despite being quite up there in years. I was frustrated because I loved an Atheist and questioned why we couldn’t be compatible. It’s made me question my faith more than anything.

        She said that God’s answers were “Yes, No, and I have something BETTER in mind.”

        Faith is about having TRUST in something bigger than you–and it’s scary. But if you re-frame it in a positive light, rejection is God’s way of protecting us, because He has something better in the future. And that, I like.

        And maybe you could pray to a rock, but so what?

        Also, what is the accomplishment in a significant step toward Atheism? Does it bring you joy? Why do you feel more FREE that way?

  6. I don’t mind when someone says they want to pray for me.

    However, religious people often use it as a way of being passively aggressive. They’re really not being nice about it. What they’re really saying is there is something wrong with me because I don’t believe in their particular flavor of god, and I need praying for. Either that, or it’s generally a way of getting the last word in or a way to try and rile me up.

    • I agree, Godless Cranium. I encounter that same feeling from other Christians who are trying to convert me from Catholicism to being evangelical, or some other denomination. It’s really annoying and that’s when I started feeling empathy for Atheists.

      I’m sorry you have been provoked in that way. I’m not saying that everyone who offers to pray for you is doing so from a good place. But there are believers out there who don’t use prayer as a way to put-down your personality, current circumstances, or pressure you to believe.

      Thanks for commenting, I really appreciate it.

  7. I don’t understand why wordpress sometimes lets me reply directly to a comment and sometimes not.

    And my apologies, but a word having a sexual connotation in one of its several means does not disqualify it for use for its other meanings. I understand your objection but I don’t agree. Words are too valuable to discard them so easily.

    On to your questions. It’s not about joy, freedom or accomplishment. I was a believer like you. Believers don’t just wake up and say “I want to be an atheist.” That is the antithesis of faith. It’s that faith requires you to believe many things, not just in the existence of God but also in ideas about how God works and justifications for those ideas. “I believe in God because the Bible tells me so. I believe in the Bible because it seems correct, because it answers certain questions for me, because people I trust believe in it, because I see it working in my life, and so on.” The platform of faith rests on many legs, large and small.

    Over time your ideas about faith may change but that’s fine, faith can be fluid. You can swap out the legs. But once in a while, one of the legs disappears and there is no replacement. It’s just gone and no amount of explanation or mental gymnastics or clever sayings can bring it back. If a large leg was lost, it can take others with it. Faith can withstand just so much of this before it collapses entirely. It just breaks.

    “Yes, no, wait” was that for me, regardless of how you frame it. When I realized things would work out the same if I prayed to God, prayed to a rock or didn’t pray at all, I lost a major underpinning of my faith. God became an unnecessary part of the equation. The world would work the same without a God in it. I changed, from believer to agnostic and the world kept on spinning.

    Faith also doesn’t leave your life quietly. You mourn it. You argue with yourself. You try to patch it together, keep it going. You justify it with Pascal’s wager. You want to know something? Pascal’s wager is faith’s last gasp–once you’re there you are no longer a true believer.

    People are malleable. We can convince ourselves of many things. A losing gambler can believe they have won lots of money, simply by ignoring their losses. And a faithful person can believe in the power of prayer and see it confirmed when something goes their way. Their successes become attributed to God while they take the blame for their failures–this is one of the doctrines of Christianity, or at least Lutheranism. I believe that you believe in prayer. But I also believe events in your life would be much the same if you didn’t.

    Believing you have a shield against the world isn’t nothing. We know that placebos can make a person get better, on nothing more than belief they will work. You want scary? Try facing the world without the faith that there’s some cosmic hand protecting you. It is motivating, I can tell you that.

    • I hope one day, you’ll become a believer again.

      Thanks for sharing with me. In my experience, most Atheists are forged in the fire of staggering loss and unabated struggle. As you said, they settle into a state of grief– and then rage at times. And then many times, apathy.

      Yes, there are many legs of faith. But I suppose I don’t hold myself to such a high standard. I accept what I know and what I can, and I look with high hope for the rest. For me, legs disappearing came in the form of losing people close to me. My aunt, who was a Catholic nun. She was like having a direct line to God in my life. She smoothed over all my doubts– whenever I had a question about The Church, she was ready with a gentle ear and an answer. She exuded kindness and warmth. She’s not like the nuns most people would imagine. Not punitive. Not perfect, but rarely did anyone get upset with her. She just wasn’t mean. Losing people, young friends my age, is like having one of those legs broken. But God always offers a way to buoy ourselves up and balance once again.

      Waiting, with that loss– that’s a dark time. I go in out and of it, and I struggle most when I see how many people have just given up on God. How many are inconsolable. My own struggles. But my faith is not built on the Bible, but supplemented by it. My faith is founded on my life experiences. It’s founded on a belief in Mary, and the Saints. In the peace I feel during Mass, and the joy serving others. I administering the Eucharist, and receiving it. I KNOW I’m being protected. I feel it. I’ve had evidence of this all my life. I know others haven’t, and that’s what motivates me to be open about my faith– so they know it’s possible.

      Why not try reversing that notion about things working out regardless of prayer? Is it possible things are working out because someone is watching out for you, whether or not you acknowledge them or believe in their presence? Is it possible that this force supports you and helps carry you through life, even when you don’t WANT to need help? That they accept you where you are right now– unconditionally? I think so.

      Pascal’s Wager is fascinating. I would say my family lives that way– as if it were true. They seldom worry about things, they assume they will work out. And that’s been true for them, in most instances. But I have no fear of Hell. I know I’m not going there. I believe in Heaven and I know I have guardian angels advocating for me. I think many are raised with a lot of fear and shame– that’s why they find comfort in these types of arguments.

      For me, I’d just rather believe than not believe. And it works. I know my “losses,” are temporary– and I know that I will re-pay what I owe. I believe in God’s abundance. It certainly is a rocky path– but I’d have it no other way.

      I also believe in prayer when things DON’T go my way, when I’m in despair. When I need it a most, a sign always appears in my life to reassure me. Always small things. Often, other people and their unexpected empathy. But something always buoys me back up.

      I know I’m a good person and I face the world with the knowledge that whatever happens, I will adjust and persevere. I have overcome much adversity. I admire those who can live without God– they seem to have a lot of confidence, most are pretty successful. But they aren’t always that happy, I find. If not believing works for them, that’s wonderful.

      • >most Atheists are forged in the fire of staggering loss and unabated struggle

        I hear this a lot from Christians. I don’t hear it much from atheists and I believe this is not true for most atheists. It’s not the case for me.

        I also don’t fear hell. Even in a world where God exists, I don’t believe the gateway to some kind of heaven would bar me based on accepting a belief that is very much dependent on the country and family I was born into. I don’t need for angels or saints to advocate for me if the gate (if such thing exists) was never closed to begin with.

        I’m glad that your faith brings you such happiness. I was once like you are now, and just as buoyed by it. Today I no longer have the faith, but I’m still happy as well. The grief of lost faith is short-lived and life goes on. The choice to be happy is very much ours to make.

      • Thank you for correcting me. You seem peaceful about it. I just got into an intense conversation with a self-proclaimed Agnostic Atheist who was so intellectual, we couldn’t come to any middle ground. I just don’t think reason alone is the answer to such a complex question as God.

        Good for you! This is probably the most respectful conversation I’ve had about the subject, period. I agree on the bottom line. It seems like that’s all you have to say, but thanks for humoring me at such length.

        It’s not constant joy– and I think Christianity by nature demands a vigilance of negotiating boundaries. How far do you go to help someone, without hurting yourself? How much to forgive? But I enjoy the adventure. And my resolve strengthens over time.

  8. I can always go on. And there are topics where you would find me quite unyielding. I also consider myself an agnostic atheiest.

    I would correct your last bit: “I think *humanity* by nature demands a vigilance of negotiating boundaries.” Volumes have been written about the questions you pose there. They are so fundamental to our existence and not exclusive to any one person or group.

    I have enjoyed our chat, more than most I find on here. Take care.

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