By Dr. Gary Welton
Social media is used today for every purpose (and many of the posts are not particularly prosocial). Too many of the “news” stories have been slanted so far (sometimes to the right, and sometimes to the left) as to become fake, by any reasonable standard. But Facebook is also used to announce, share, and celebrate positive events, like weddings and births. I often think that Facebook is at its best when it focuses on newborns and toddlers. Facebook has also become a quick way to communicate needs and request prayer when facing human trauma.
My recent Facebook feed includes the stories of two little girls recently hospitalized at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital for serious threatening infections, both associated with chronic conditions—sisters, no less. I am powerless to do anything for these two little girls, and that feeling of being powerless is experienced exponentially more so by their parents and grandparents. I know of no comment to make except to offer prayers on their behalf.
When my wife was going through her cancer treatment, and dealing with most of the fine print associated with the chemotherapy drugs, it meant a great deal to us, as we sat in the hospital, to see those Facebook comments coming in from people promising to support us with prayer. Unfortunately, we are all guilty at times of saying “I will pray for you,” and then living with prayer promise dementia. We too often make the promise to pray, and then totally forget to follow through. Because of this, I treasured (and continue to treasure) the comments that regularly came from one co-worker (herself recently widowed by cancer), “Praying for you, right now!”
The offer of prayer, though, is a theistic statement of faith. It is a recognition that our times and our lives are not always under our control, but that we are dependent on the love, care, and ultimate wisdom of our God. Of course, there are many (and a growing number) in our society who do not accept our theistic lifestyles, and hence reject the notion of offering up prayers to God. These atheists, making an attempt to practice a different lifestyle, have sought a new way to convey their concern for others in troubling situations. Perhaps you have seen their politically correct comments on Facebook. As I was reading the comments of “Prayers,” and “Praying right now,” I was taken aback the first time I saw the comment, “I will think happy thoughts for you today.”
I recognize the potential impact of optimism and happy thoughts. We do sometimes have to reorient our thinking, move beyond ruminating on troubling realities, and think happy thoughts. I am not, however, impressed with the idea of placing my faith and confidence in happy thoughts. Indeed, I am a weak person and need the crutch of faith. I am not ashamed of my human weakness. When we fail to admit our weaknesses, we become hypocrites. It is only when we make allowances for the needs of our human condition that we are able to live full human lives, and hence fulfill our created roles.
In my human condition, I need the prayers of my church and my family, as I deal with day-to-day stressors and challenges of life. My fellow parishioners, all of my friends, and all of my family members also need my prayers on their behalf. I’m glad to think happy thoughts for them as well, but as the New Year unfolds, I promise to pray for them “Right Now” as I see their stories unfold: prayers for them as they experience the traumas of the human condition, and prayers for them as they celebrate the joys of their relationships.
As I see your Facebook posts this year, be aware that I am praying for you, “Right Now.”
Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.