Editor’s note: This column was written and submitted prior to the Texas school shooting on May 24.
This is not the article I planned to write this month. But that happens. This time, my attention was caught by an article in LDS Living magazine, a Deseret Book publication. Emily Abel’s article posed the question, “When we say we’ll keep someone in our thoughts and prayers, do we?”
Emily described her concern for Ukraine, and said that for months she has seen requests from various organizations for donations, supplies and volunteers for Ukraine. There has also been an ongoing request to “pray for Ukraine,” an invitation she said felt “like a cheap way out; a way to feel like I was doing something without really doing anything.”
How many times have we been asked to keep someone in our prayers, or told someone that we would pray for them? And how many times have we actually done it?
Emily’s perspective changed after listening to the annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April. Specifically, she noted the words of President Russell M. Nelson, whom she describes as one whose calling is to “watch over, instruct, warn, love . . and lead every person on this earth today.”
The third sentence he spoke in his opening comments was, “I pray for you every day.” Emily suggests that those for whom he prays likely include the mothers and fathers, the lonely, the sick, and those suffering from the conflict in Eastern Europe.
Two paragraphs later, President Nelson said, “We call upon people everywhere to pray for those in need, to do what they can to help the distressed, and to seek the Lord’s help in ending any major conflicts.”
Later, in his principal conference address, President Nelson twice more mentioned prayers for specific blessings, again inviting everyone to continue to fast and pray for the people suffering from this conflict. Clearly the prophet believes in the efficacy of prayer and encourages our active participation in petitioning God, both for ourselves and those in need.
Emily said that conference taught her that praying for someone isn’t “doing nothing. In fact, praying for those in need should be at the foundation of everything else we do.”
She believes that if we made “they’ll be in our prayers” a promise, not just a phrase, we would develop greater empathy for God’s children, which would then be reflected in our everyday actions.
Her article was to go “live” on May 4, the National Day of Prayer, and coincidentally, President Nelson posted his thoughts on Facebook about the phrase “thoughts and prayers” that same day!
His post noted that the phrase is seen by many as a “sincere expression of condolence and concern.” Others echo Emily Abel’s initial feeling that it’s not really doing anything.
Affirming his belief that praying for those in need is pleasing to God, President Nelson said, “It is my own personal experience that when I ask God in prayer for direction on what I can do to help minister, lift, love and support those in need, he answers these prayers with specific and simple things I can actually do to bless one of his children.
“I invite you to consider how your thoughts and prayers can be a catalyst for God to inspire and direct you towards acts of kindness, compassion and generosity.”
In a 2016 column, I described a grocery store encounter with a woman who expressed great concern about the post-surgical black boot I was wearing. After a brief conversation, she asked my name — so she could pray for me. Perhaps the fact that she was a stranger made the experience more memorable, but I still recall the feeling of love and compassion that her words brought. And I have no doubt that she did pray for me.
It may seem like doing nothing, but it gave me a spiritual boost and my own prayers became more specific. We may not always know their names, but we can identify them and their situation, and God knows their names.
Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.