My thoughts are not your thoughts

What does a man do when his newborn is about to undergo delicate heart surgery and he’s helpless to ensure her survival? If he knows God he will likely pray and he may ask others to pray for her as well. If he doesn’t know God, in his fear and desperate need he may ask others to keep her in their thoughts or their hearts. But can that help her or impact her situation?

When a disaster strikes or a mass shooting occurs, many God-fearing, concerned citizens near and far offer their prayers on behalf of the victims, and are often criticized and derided for it. Their critics charge them with using a meaningless gesture as a way to avoid having to offer any concrete help. Whether or not prayers are effectual or a substitute for material or “sweat” help is a topic for another post. I’d like to explore the substitute for prayers with this one.

The nonreligious, wanting to offer support to victims or those in need but not having prayer as an option, may promise to keep the needy one in their thoughts. Now, I get that knowing others are thinking about you and care for you can be an encouragement and provide a measure of comfort and strength. But thoughts by others have no power to affect your situation. Neither do nebulous offers of positivity or good vibes. These are similarly criticized as substitutes for effectual assistance but in both cases the criticism is unfair because we don’t know whether the thinker or the pray-er isn’t also helping in other ways.

But what if there is no other way to help? There’s nothing the man’s family members and friends can do to help protect his child through the surgery. Donating money won’t make a difference and they can’t come alongside the medical team in the OR to advise or assist. If he doesn’t believe in prayer he’s left with soliciting thoughts for her, but I can’t see how that is any help for the child at all, nor why he would think it might be. Perhaps it’s just an act of desperation on a flimsy hope that a mysterious mental activity may have causal powers beyond the one generating the thought.

This hope may derive at least partly from the fact that the activity of thinking of someone is indistinguishable in “form” from praying for someone. Though the prayer may be spoken, it needn’t be, so both are essentially activities of one’s mind. If prayers are believed by some to be effectual maybe simple thoughts can be as well. But of course praying is more than just thinking…it’s communicating with the only one besides ourselves who has the capability of “hearing” our thoughts, as well as the power to act on them. The “power of prayer” is not in the mental activity but in the Mind who has access to the thoughts of every other mind.

If one rejects the existence of this ultimate, all-powerful, supernatural Mind, he is left with only finite, mortal brains which, though having an amazing capability to generate thoughts, are merely the result of random mutations and natural selection and so are incapable even of legitimate reasoning to truth, much less affecting the outcome of a little girl’s heart surgery.

In reality, however, we are more than products of an unguided process…more than just meat and bones and a brain that can think positive thoughts. We are minds, generated by the ultimate Mind to have unhindered communication with him so that we can ask him for anything and he may do it. He may not. Again…topic for another post.

But at the very least prayer provides a real possibility that the help we want to give to those we care about, that we cannot give of our own resources, will indeed be given by the One whose resources are limitless. Prayer has the potential to move God to respond in powerful ways for the benefit of the one prayed for. Mere positive, caring thoughts, however…as sincere and well-intentioned as they may be…are not even potentially or possibly effective but instead actually and hopelessly powerless.