‘Thoughts and prayers’: beyond cliché to effective response

A Christian Science perspective: We can help break cycles of hate and fear by actively letting divine Love guide our thoughts, words, and actions.

“Thoughts and prayers.” This sentiment often permeates social media following tragic events. But recently, I’ve also noticed statements denouncing these words, calling them insufficient and ineffective, and calling for “real action” – or even, at times, retaliation – instead.

In the wake of violent acts and blatant displays of hate – such as the recent bombing at a mosque in Nigeria – responding with despair, fear, or hate is certainly understandable and might even seem more justifiable than responding with prayer. I, too, have at times shaken my head and scrolled past those messages of “thoughts and prayers,” feeling they had become nothing more than cliché.

Still, I have seen the effectiveness of prayer in my own life and heard of countless examples that have spanned centuries and continents. So, recently, I’ve been considering how I can actively respond to the call for thoughts and prayers, and how this actually can help break cycles of hate and irrational thinking that cause individuals to commit horrendous acts.

Perhaps no one ever dealt with hate more effectively and courageously than Christ Jesus. He challenged traditional laws that promoted a cycle of hostility and revenge and instead taught his followers to respond with love and prayer. He said: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45).

This has helped me see not only that we should strive to meet hate with love, but that knowing our ability to love originates in God can overpower hate to such an extent that the innocent, as well as those who have committed (or might be thinking of committing) horrendous acts, are freed from hate.

This may seem like an overwhelming task. But we can begin right now, today, by striving to overcome hate in our own lives. And we all have the ability to do this because we are the actual image of God who is infinite Love.

At the middle school I attended, fistfights were a common occurrence. This bothered me, and I often reacted with feelings of despair. But I had been learning in my Christian Science Sunday School that I could pray – talk with God and feel God’s presence – no matter where I was or what situation I was in.

So one day, when the familiar scene began – two angry boys approaching each other and a crowd of students gathering – I decided to pray. I knew that because God was there for me, God was there for everyone, so everyone could feel and respond to divine Love. I also knew acknowledging Love’s power and presence could dissolve any hate and fear I might feel toward these people.

Within minutes, the scene changed. The boys became calm, their shouting stopped, they walked away, and the crowd dispersed. No fight occurred that day. I can’t say fighting stopped altogether at that school, and I know I wasn’t the only one trying to improve the situation. But I did see how a change of thought from fear and anger to spiritual peace and love calmed my thought; and it didn’t feel like a coincidence when peace prevailed in that situation. While this is just one small example, every victory over hate that we experience, starting with ourselves, is a victory for love in the world.

The Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 571).

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