It has become a routine yet still shocking news report: another shooting in a quiet neighbourhood or at a shopping centre, nightclub, school or place of worship. Then come the familiar offers of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their loved ones. Sadly, there have been too many opportunities to pray these prayers recently.
As many have pointed out, thoughts and prayers are not enough—not nearly enough to erase the pain or to heal fearful and angry hearts. Kind thoughts alone will not repair relationships or mend broken systems of justice. All of us must move beyond empathetic feelings to make a difference in our communities and our world.
But there is also a real place for prayer, especially when fear and anxiety pervade our reality. As people of faith, we must remember that deep and broad prayer undergirds the steps we take to stand against systems of hatred and to build new realities of peace.
I confess that my own prayers have often been puny. Genuine, yes, but not expansive enough. It’s easy to pray for those who are most like me. At the same time, it’s easy to let contempt and anger creep into my heart, and to resort to ridiculing and shaming people with whom I disagree. I’m tempted to consider some people beyond the reach of God’s love.
In times of anxiety, let us broaden our prayers instead and let us envision God’s peace blossoming in the lives of everyone caught in the latest acts of violence.
So we pray for those directly affected by violence, the survivors and the ones who love them. We pray for their communities, where fear and anxiety still linger. May God’s healing prevail.
We pray for the first responders, the medical caregivers, the counsellors and faith leaders who help bring healing into those communities. May the strength and wisdom of God be present in their actions.
We pray for the people working in law enforcement, that they will discern wisely how to protect public safety while respecting individual human rights. May God give them insight, patience and creativity when situations become intense.
Hard as it is, we must pray for those who caused the violence, and for those who are still plotting violent acts. We pray for individuals who are so troubled by fears that they want to hurt other people, even strangers. May God be present in their lives in ways you and I cannot even imagine.
We pray for their family members, co-workers and friends who might see signs that someone in their midst is considering violent actions. With God’s guidance, may they find the resources to help the troubled person.
We pray for our leaders, who have the influence to call forth good or to stir up hatred that leads to even more violence. May God give them ability to stand against the systems that support racism and injustice, and may they act for justice and mercy in the communities they lead.
We pray for legislators on a local and national scale, as they consider measures to quell easy access to weapons. May God give them wisdom and courage to take bold steps against violence.
We pray for our churches, that they may shine as beacons of hope in their own neighbourhoods, as places of refuge and healing. May God show us opportunities for living out peace among our neighbours, and may we respond with friendship and joy.
We pray for our own hearts, that we will remain tender toward both those who suffer and those who cause the suffering. May the Creator give us the ability to see each person as one loved by God, with the ability to change and grow, to make choices for life instead of destruction. May we not lose sight of God’s loving presence in the world and may we work to extend that love. We ask that God will help us discern places where the divine reign is already being lived out.
In these turbulent times, will you join me in broadening our prayers?