May 25, 2022

Thoughts & Prayers aren’t Useless—but they Sure as F*ck aren’t Getting the Job Done.

An important read: “Every time there’s a mass murder, this Charlie Brooker video needs to be reposted.”
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I was raised on prayer.

There’s a picture of me from when I was three or four years old sitting on my parents’ bed in my pajamas while my older sister attempts to show me how to do prayer hands for our bedtime routine.

While her hands were upright, palms together in front of her chest, mine were flipped upside down, somewhere by my stomach.

And honestly, that’s a pretty accurate representation of my somewhat-complicated, lifelong relationship with God and faith.

I consider myself lucky to have been raised with a strong set of spiritual beliefs, handed down to me by my grandfather and my mom. These two were and still are my spiritual compass. My everyday life was made up of daily prayers before meals and bedtime, crosses hanging on the wall, offerings left on altars to honor my ancestors, candles with pictures of saints on them, and honest discussions about the spirit world.

But while faith and spirituality and yes, prayer, were important tenets of my upbringing, my grandfather and my mom also made sure to remind me of one thing that so many people tend to forget (or outright ignore): prayer is only the first step.

And it’s this thought that came to me yesterday as I was driving to Washington D.C. and heard on the radio that 19 children and 2 adults were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

I couldn’t check my phone, but I knew with 100 percent accuracy that a barrage of “thoughts & prayers” would be coming. Some from well-meaning people who just don’t know what else to say or do. Some from disillusioned people who don’t really care but don’t want to be caught not saying anything. And some from ignorant, hypocritical people who care more about their precious guns than the precious lives that were lost.

As someone who was raised on prayer—someone who sat in traffic yesterday and cried and prayed for all 21 lives lost and all the additional lives that are forever changed—here’s what I think about all those “thoughts & prayers”:

Our thoughts and prayers are nothing without action.

Our thoughts and prayers are hollow if they don’t include changed behavior on our part.

Our thoughts and prayers are useless without doing the damn work.

But they don’t have to be.

For me, prayer has always been an internal, slightly selfish practice. I pray to calm myself. I pray to ground myself. I pray to figure out what I want and ask for it. And regardless of whether I’m asking for something positive for myself, or for those I love, or for the world at large, I’m still doing so in a way that ultimately is for my benefit based on how I currently view the world and how I hope to view it in the future.

This is why prayer is only the first step. It’s “me” focused, even when we aim for it to not be. And while it can be forward thinking, it’s not forward moving.

And what happens in this country after a mass shooting (of which there have been 212 this year alone) is that the majority of people send their thoughts and prayers, convince themselves that they’ve done their part, then quickly move on to the next big thing in the news cycle or whatever daily drama is happening in their own lives, and they fail to acknowledge that they’ve only taken the first small step.

Prayer, on a large scale, can absolutely be beneficial when it comes to connecting us and changing our energy, and I do believe that the energy we put out into the world matters. But that energy has to be genuine and consistent and backed up by work and effort and movement.

Prayer alone is not enough. We have to stop outsourcing the hard work and the tough calls to God or Buddha or the Universe, or whichever spiritual entity we believe in.

The world isn’t going to be saved by divine intervention and magical thinking. And it’s not going to be saved by sticking our heads in the sand and waiting for a miracle. It’s on us.

So, have faith—but step the f*ck up.

Because thoughts and prayers aren’t always useless, but they sure aren’t getting the job done. Here’s what can:

Vote for elected officials on a local, state, and federal level who support common sense gun reform laws and universal background checks.

Get out in the streets and protest. Make your voice heard.

Support the individuals and groups that have been fighting for gun reform for decades.

If you have friends or family or those in your community who don’t support gun reform, call them out on it. Staying quiet to keep the peace can’t be a thing anymore. Because what kind of peace do we have if children can’t even walk into their classrooms without getting gunned down?

Write about and share your personal stance on gun violence as a teacher, a student, a parent, or simply a caring but pissed off human who wants to be able to go to church or a movie or the grocery store without dying. Your story has power.

I wrote recently about how it’s okay if we hate absolutely everything right now. About how most days the world just feels so full of pain and violence and grief and ignorance.

I could spend my days praying for things to improve, for there to be change. And I do, but I also know that the most significant, lasting change comes from flipping what’s normal and accepted on its head, just like my upside-down, less than perfect prayer hands when I was a kid.

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