A Question For My Believer Friends

Me at my church this Sunday.
Me at my church this Sunday.
After my miscarriage I wrote about the power of prayer as a non-believer. About how I still completely value and appreciate when people offer to pray for me or people I love.

But this week, I’ve been thinking about that in reverse.

If you have a faith of the religious variety, how do you feel when people like me say to you, “You’re in my thoughts!”

There’s someone facing huge struggles here locally. The family is very religious and all of the message on their Facebook page contain beautiful religious sentiments accompanied by bible verses. I don’t know these people well enough to approach them, I’m just following their story, but it did get me thinking: Would my words be more offensive than encouraging?

Here’s my fear…someone like me, an open non-believer, says “You and your family are in my thoughts.” Of course I’m sincere, but does it carry a hidden message that could be upsetting? I mean, religious people rely on their faith in times of trouble, do they want someone like me basically saying, “I don’t believe in the system you’re placing your faith in, and I’m going to remind you of that by saying I’m just going to do my own thing over here instead of praying for your family, like you asked.”

See? That sounds SUPER SHITTY of me.

But then I thought more about it, if a Jewish friend said, “I’m praying for you,” it wouldn’t be the same faith system, right? But they’d still appreciate it, right?

OR WOULD THEY?

BAH! I don’t know! I know that I totally over analyze things like this. Religion is such a personal thing and it is always a huge fear that my atheism could offend people I love. Or people I’m trying to help. What is the right thing to do? LIE? Say, “You’re in my prayers,” if they’re someone who doesn’t know any better? And if they are aware of my own lack of religious faith, then what? Do I just avoid saying anything? But, what if we’re face to face and I want to send them with parting words? Just keep it practical? Offer meals and hugs?

So – I come to you to seek counsel. If you know I’m a non-believer, how would you like me to express my sympathy, condolences or support? Is it okay to say, “You’re in my thoughts!” or does that sound condescending? Or should I just let them know I’m there if they need anything?

And most importantly – how much am I over-reacting? On a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being “Not at All!” and 10 being, “TAKE A XANAX LADY!” – where do I fall?

46 Comments

  • Russell

    In my experience, the simple phrase, “I’m so sorry for your loss” communicates and connects far better than “prayers” or “thoughts.”

    I can’t imagine a person of a different faith being offended by the phrase “You’re in my prayers” so long as it is spoken in love. When in doubt, keep silent and do something for the person. Actions are better than words, anyway.

    The MOST hateful thing anyone has ever said to me (well, nearly anyway) was, “I’m praying for you” without love behind the eyes.

    Great post, as always. Thanks.

    • zoot

      I’ve had the same generic “I’m praying for you” passed on to me before and yes – it does feel much worse than saying nothing at all!

  • Melissa

    I’m a religious person. I’m Catholic (though I feel conflicted about some of their choices – can you be a pro-birth control, pro gay marriage Cathilic?) and find great comfort in the ritual and ceremony of mass. I went to catholic school from kindergarten to college.

    I have an Athiest friend who does not believe in prayer.

    This pregnancy, I have struggled with a host of health issues and insurance claim denial. It has been very stressful. He told me he was thinking positive thoughts my way and thinking of me. I was just as touched as if he prayed for me. It is nice to think of the thoughts of others raising you up. It doesn’t matter what faith either person is or is not.

    I kind of think it’s like the whole Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Season’s Greetings thing. You took the time to pass along happy thoughts to me? Thanks! No offense, just thanks for the thoughts behind the statement!

    • zoot

      Melissa – I WHOLE-HEARTEDLY put faith in Catholics like you who will help guide the church to beliefs that will hopefully set it up for growth in the future. PLEASE continue being that Catholic πŸ™‚ My Catholic friend locally wanted me to come back to the church just so I could help her form a “Catholics For Choice” group at the local church. IT ALMOST TEMPTED ME πŸ™‚

      Secondly – I’m glad you have friends who send you those positive thoughts and I’m thrilled a religious person like yourself sees the sincerity in them!

      • Maryellen

        Add me to the list of Pro-BC (but I don’t think that employers -specifically Catholic employers since obv. it is frowned upon- should need to cover it –it’s kind of a hey- how did you not know that was not going to be okay with us when you heard we were a Catholic-based organization…I used to teach at an out-of-state Catholic school and was told in the hiring process that if it was public knowledge that I was not abiding by the Catholic teachings, I could be dismissed from my job…I think that it was totally valid.) and absolutely pro-gay-marriage Catholic team! Did your friend ever start a group? I would totally join a local Catholics for Choice campaign!

      • melaniek

        Add me to the pro-gay Catholic list (I am for birth control too, but I think its WAY too widely prescribed, I have a friend who took it for years before learning she was serious risk because of a blood clotting disorder and BC sent me into a bad period of depression and anxiety before I got off it and felt SO MUCH BETTER–I just think no one stops to ask questions or follows up with people on BC to make sure everything is ok)… side bar over I wanted to say that I often say your in my thoughts or your in my prayers interchangeably. I would not at all be offended by either one. If someone is thinking and/or praying for me I think its extremely powerful. One prayer I try to remember to pray regularly is “I pray for my friends and families intentions” because I think its amazing to consider that I’ve added my good thoughts and prayers to the prayers of my family and friends.. sort of like compounding prayers, compounding thoughts!

  • Michele

    As a fellow non-believer, I tell people I am sending positive thoughts out into the universe. I’ve never considered it might be offensive. But, much like Melissa, I tend to consider the spirit of things. If someone says they are praying for me, yea, not my thing, but it’s not like they are telling me to eff off. I think if you say it in all sincerity and people don’t take the spirit behind it into account, well, that isn’t really your issue.

    • zoot

      Yeah – as much as it may seem negative – I kinda thought the same thing. If they weren’t the kind of person to appreciate the spirit of the words, then we probably weren’t going to have a lifelong relationship of support. πŸ™‚

  • Crystal

    In my experience living in the bible belt, there are people who would take offense to hearing much anything from a non believer because they would find it all hollow, however, I feel those minority of folks who react that way are the ones in the wrong. They are being intolerant and that’s on them. I don’t think it’s really making their situation any worse overall, other than giving them something else to think about for a minute and then they’d probably end up angry at you, but in general, they are probably angry at just about everyone.

    So I think you have to go with doing whatever you feel is best, rather than worrying about which thing is likely to piss most of them off the least. If someone gets a ‘you’re in my thoughts’ from you and doubts the sincerity that’s not your issue or under your control. If you have the time and available effort to offer them food, sure that’s the southern thing to do in a crisis but you are probably over reacting by about an 8 because either someone can accept you and what you offer or they can reject it, period.

    • zoot

      I think maybe I’ve been jaded by the response to people saying, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” — BUT — most of that jaded response has come from people several places removed from my circle of friends and family. Like, overheard at restaurants or editorials on local websites or FB pages. So, I know they’re in my community, but probably not anyone I actually have contact with.

  • Cara

    I am religious, but of the liberal variety. :). I frequently use the term ‘in my thoughts’ or my favorite ‘I’m holding you and your family in my heart’ when I don’t know where the other person stands on prayer or even in addition to telling them I’m praying. I don’t ever find it offensive to hear someone is standing in solidarity with me, however they phrase it.

    • zoot

      Oh – I love the phrase Γ’β‚¬ΛœIÒ€ℒm holding you and your family in my heartÒ€ℒ – that’s beautiful. And very often what I’m trying to say!

  • Lindsey

    I’m also a fellow non-believer (or maybe more of a ‘not really sure’er’ – faith/spirituality has been a huge struggle of mine for quite some time and as I get older, I think about the whole “What are we all doing here?’ thing more and more). I have offered up positive thoughts to others in these types of situations because in my opinion, just letting someone know that you’re thinking about them in their time of need is better than saying nothing at all. I can’t really say I’ve ever even considered whether they were offended that I didn’t specifically say I was praying for them. I guess I go back to the old adage that it’s the thought that counts…if they get offended when you’re trying to show love and support, that’s on them.

  • RebeccaL

    For myself, as a Christian, when someone says to me “You are in my thoughts.” meant that they cared about me and that they were concerned about my situation. I have never been offended by anyone saying that. Now there is always the person who will say that or say they are praying for me and I kind of think “Whatever!” because I know they don’t really care about me or my situation, but that has more to do with the person and not with the words used.

  • Rochelle

    Zoot-
    I saw the very phrase ‘you’re in my thoughts’ yesterday written on a FB friend’s page written by an atheist friend of mine. I am a Christian (I don’t define myself as religious, but, nevertheless in a relationship with Christ) Anyhoo-I thought it was a beautiful sentiment, am don’t find it offensive in the least.

  • Hillary

    I’ve wondered about this myself. I’m a non-believer, but I’ve always been touched when someone who believes says they are praying for me, because I know what it means to them. Does my goofy “you’re in my thoughts” and general sending of positive energy someone’s way feel as valuable to them? I don’t know, but it is all I have to offer. Or do I just say that I’m praying for them because in my fashion, I am?

    • zoot

      That’s kinda where I was at – I am praying by my OWN sense of the word “prayers” so I sometimes think it’s okay to phrase it as such – but on the same note I worry it will seem less sincere since the word carries heavy connotations.

  • Shannon

    I’m Catholic and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t mind hearing heartfelt wishes from people who say things like “You’re in my thoughts.” As long as they are sincere. I truly believe that all good thoughts, vibes, and prayers go into some cosmic channel that help to make things better for those that they are intended for. Knowing that there are others out there that care enough to devote some thoughts to your situation often helps to make you feel like you are not alone and that others care about you.

    Nobody should be intolerant of others beliefs about life and the universe. After all, nobody can be truly sure of what is out there that is bigger or greater than us. Therefore, you shouldn’t be offended if somebody offers you the kind words that their understanding of things allows them to offer.

  • Emily

    I never even thought of this. I am also a non-believer and frequently say “You are in my thoughts” to my Christian friends in times of need/sorrow. I like the idea of something about keeping someone/family near my heart. But I think it is just comforting to know someone is thinking about you and you are not alone – whether prayers or just good vibes.

  • shokufeh

    I’m a believer. But, as a Baha’i, my daily interactions are generally with people who are not of the same religion. And whether a person is a believer or not, or believe something a little different from me, I’m touched if someone offers me thoughts, prayers, energy, whatever. If it’s offered with sincerity, the intent is the same: good.

  • Sarah @ TM2TS

    I say “You’re in my thoughts” with people too. I know, personally, knowing someone is thinking good thoughts about me, or someone I care about, truly helps. I would hope that it would mean the same to them. The power of positive thinking works.
    Most of the time.

  • Kelli Oliver George

    Anything said to me with a loving, positive spirit will be appreciated.

    A few years ago, a former friend of mine wrote a nasty, mean-spirited post on her FB wall about how “good thoughts and positive vibes” meant nothing to her because only the “power of prayer really worked”. Emphasis on the word “former” because in general, she showed herself to be a nasty and mean-spirited sort of person.

  • Maggie

    I’ll rate you at a 10; otherwise, I’ll be fretting every time I say/write “you’re in my thoughts” because that is how I also express my sympathy/support along with “wishing you all the best.”

  • Melizzard

    In the past I’ve always been one of those people who didn’t know what to say so I never said anything at all. Even when I felt compelled. This last year we’ve gone through some pretty terrible stuff and I realized that it absolutely helps when people show support, however they choose to show it. I didn’t care whether they said they were praying or thinking of us… I just needed to know they were there for me,

    Now I make a point of saying something supportive to anyone who I think needs it – and honestly I say what I think they need or want to hear, not necessarily what I would come up with on my own. Because if they are in pain, my comfort isn’t what’s important. Whatever is going to make them feel better is what I aim for so they get the maximum feeling of support and love.

  • Shannon.

    I almost always say “you’re in my thoughts” in case the people I’m saying it to is a non-believer. I think that’s fine, along with “I hope things work out” or “may you find comfort” or something equally heartfelt but not reliant on anyone’s belief system. I liked what someone said earlier “I’m holding you in my heart.”

  • Chelsea Schiavone

    If there’s a Christian (or believer of anything) that finds your way of expressing support to them to be offensive, then the fault is with them, not you. πŸ™‚

    • zoot

      Thank you, friend. That’s what my instinct is but I’m always of the, “OH NO! EVERYONE HATES ME!” mentality which tends to distort my perception of reality πŸ™‚

  • Anon

    I’m a Christian and I’ve never been at all offended when people who don’t share my faith say that I’m “in their thoughts” or that they’re “sending good thoughts my way.” I appreciate both prayer and positive thinking. I doubt most Christians would be offended by you saying “you’re in my thoughts” any more than you’re offended by a sincere “I’m praying for you.” It’s the heart behind the words that truly matters anyways.

  • Jackie

    I always say”you’re in my thoughts”. I want to say something that lets me know I’m thinking of them…because I am even if I’m not praying for them. I can’t imagine anyone would think it’s offensive.

  • Katy McDonald England

    I say “I’m praying for you” but I also say “I’m sending you all the love in the world” and I mean it. I believe in the power of prayer but I also believe that you can definitely harness all the love in the universe and ask that for a brief second it surrounds the person you’re directing it at and surrounding them with it. Maybe that’s a stupid thought, but it’s how I feel.

  • Beth

    Like a couple of others, I generally use something along the lines of ‘I’m keeping your family in my heart/on my mind” or I’ll say I am hoping for peace and strength for them if it is in the middle of a difficult situation.

    As an atheist, I am fine when my Christian friends tell me they are praying for me because all that matters is that support is shown. It doesn’t matter to me what the form of that support is, and from the responses I’ve gotten from my Christian friends, they are just as fine with my good thoughts. It wouldn’t feel right for me to say I am praying for someone, because it wouldn’t be true and that makes me uncomfortable, even if they would have no way of knowing.

  • Jen Ambrose

    As a believer, I’m not offended at all if someone tells me that I’m in their thoughts. Especially if its sincere. I’d much rather have an “You’re in my thoughts and my heart breaks for you” than a rote “I’m praying for you” from someone who really isn’t.

  • kimblahs

    I feel like you are always better off telling someone you care. Saying, “You are in my thoughts” is just that. If someone were offended by that then they are too easily offended.

  • Heather

    I’m a Christian, and I think “in your thoughts” is a very sweet statement πŸ™‚ I get that not everyone believes as I do but I appreciate kindness and empathy in any shape and form.

  • Valerie

    I’m very religious and I would not be at all offended if someone said “You’re in my thoughts.” When you’re going through a hard time, it’s comforting to know that you haven’t been forgotten by those not facing the same challenges–no matter their belief system.

  • Kate

    It’s reassuring to read all the responses from the believers here — I’m a non-believer myself, and I usually say something like “You’re in my thoughts/heart,” and I’ve occasionally wondered if it seemed…maybe less meaningful to the person amid a stream of other comments promising prayers. I’m glad everyone seems to believe, like I do, that it’s the intention that counts. I always appreciate any such sentiment from a friend, whether religious or not.

  • Carrisa

    Why is it so hard for me to tell someone I am praying for them if I know they aren’t into that? Or if I don’t know what they are into. I need to just shrug it off and say what I mean. I guess it’s because everyone seems to get so offended by everything all the time.

    On the flip side, it doesn’t bother me or wouldn’t bother me to hear that I am in someone’s thoughts or they are sending me warm wishes. I would just be glad that they cared.

  • Carol

    Okay, I didn’t even finish reading this blog entry. I couldn’t wait. You are over thinking this. I am sure the family would love to hear from you with whatever. If it were me and you posted, “you are in my thoughts” I’d b THRILLED!!! I would be willing to my life on the line by saying this, I’m sure the family would be okay with it no matter what.

  • Ashley

    I am a believer (most days…) but since I’m going through such a weird spot with praying right now (as in, I don’t really do it all that much), I always say, “I’m thinking of you, I’ll keep you in my thoughts,” or other similar sentiments, because that’s really what I do. I don’t always make those thoughts into prayers, but I do find myself thinking about those people a lot. Some might even consider that part of prayer, although God isn’t always a part of those thoughts, but either way, it shows the real concern that I am trying to let them know I have.
    And related to your next entry, 2 things: 1. The fact that you are so worried about this gives some insight into your heightened level of anxiety. 2. I truly am thinking about you (and occasionally even praying for you) as you struggle with whether to seek help for your anxiety.
    And when are you coming to visit? πŸ™‚ I miss you.

  • Jen

    A simple “I’ll be thinking of you” is never a bad way to go; or “sending positive thoughts and vibes your way” when someone asks for thoughts prayers for a situation. As others have said above, it really is the thought that counts and knowing that someone cares enough to offer support means SO much.

  • Swistle

    I’ve found this subject extremely interesting to think about as I do dishes, cook, grocery shop, etc., and I’m still not done thinking about it. But I’ve reached some tentative conclusions, and then I will do more thinking from there.

    The first thing is not so much a conclusion as a memory from when I was a Christian. When I was a Christian, I wouldn’t have been offended if someone had said they were sending good thoughts, but I would have considered it a useless thing to do. Kind of like if they said “I’m mentally baking you a cake” or “I’m using oregano and thyme to cast a circle of healing and protection.” I’d know it was well-intentioned, and yet it wouldn’t bring me any comfort or make me feel as if anything were being done on my behalf (as I WOULD have felt if someone were praying for me). I might also feel kind of irritated that THEY seemed to think it WAS something useful being done.

    Now that I’m not a Christian, my general way to handle such things is to avoid trying to find something equivalent to what they want to hear (for example, saying “good thoughts” instead of prayers), but instead try to find something a Christian would say that I could also say. For example, a Christian could say “I’m praying for you” but could ALSO say “I’m so worried, I’m thinking about her all the time, I hope she’ll be okay.” So I say something like that.

    • zoot

      See…I think that’s why I posed the question to begin with. I think I might have rolled my eyes at people saying they’re sending good thoughts back when I was religious. Mainly because of what you said – it would have felt useless.

      I do think I tend to more like you said in the end of your comment…to just phrase it to where religion is not implied or denied. “Your family has been on my mind all week” is what I went with most recently. Something to doesn’t even bring religion or lack of into play. Maybe I’m praying! Maybe I’m not! Who knows? πŸ˜‰

      But I don’t think that my initial concern means that I think negatively of Christians, like you said, I think I would have been a bit irritated as a Christian. And that didn’t make me a bad person or a bad Christian.