Clergy Corner: Prayer, not platitudes

Posted on 15 March 2018 by LeslieM

If my people, who are called my name, will humble themselves and pray… then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

After my article was submitted last month, the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas occurred. Our hearts broke on Ash Wednesday as the news unfolded throughout the afternoon. If Ash Wednesday is a day when we confront the reality of our mortal and broken nature, we certainly saw evidence of this on that very day.

I was taken aback when I heard a brokenhearted student speak. She was clearly frustrated from hearing leaders say “you are in my thoughts and prayers.”

She said, “I want action.”

I certainly do not blame this young woman for her frustration. She just experienced a nightmare nobody should have to face, especially a child. I do not think she was rejecting thoughts and prayers. I think she was frustrated by the fact that this phrase was used as a platitude. I think she felt that the public figures who used these words were trying to appease her, pat her on the head and tell her everything was going to be OK. But, tired of inaction, tired of appeasement and patronization, she spoke out not against prayer itself but against platitudes.

What is a platitude? Merriam-Webster tells us that a platitude is “a banal, trite, or stale remark.” The Cambridge Dictionary definition is “a statement that has been repeated so often that it is meaningless.”

I remember a time in seminary when I heard my New Testament professor express his frustration. A classmate of mine experienced two tragedies in a row. He returned home because his father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. And, while he was at home helping his mother, overcome by the stress of the preparations, he suffered a stroke. We found out about this when we went to class and saw his empty chair. Our professor told us what happened.

Then, he shared with us his frustration, which was not unlike the frustration of this brave student, saying, “I have heard you say to your friends ‘I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.’ It is like you are putting a band-aid on a broken arm. When this class is over, I want you to go to your dorm rooms and get on your knees and pray for David. He needs more than your words, he needs your prayers.”

I appreciated the honesty of my professor, as well as his wisdom and frustration. He reminded us that prayer is not a platitude, but it is action.

I did go home. I did get on my knees and I prayed for my classmate. I know others did as well.

David returned to seminary a couple weeks later. His mother began her recovery and was doing well. His family was healing from the loss, and David was able to return to his studies. I believe that our prayers were heard.

When we confront a national tragedy such as the massive shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, we may feel helpless. The good news is that we can do something and, as one who believes in the power of prayer, we can do a lot.

I say to all of us brokenhearted residents of Broward County to do more than say the words “I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.” Let us be called to action, get on our knees and pray.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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