The Ethical Dilemma: I’m Annoyed By “Please Pray for Me” Posts on Facebook!

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Haven’t Got A Prayer: I grew up Catholic but do not practice any religion nor believe in a god, but I still have many friends that do. Howshould I respond when someone says or posts on Facebook, “Please pray for so-and-so” while they are ill or having surgery? Since I don’t pray, is saying “I will keep them in my thoughts” a sensible response?

—Recovering Catholic


Dear Recovering,

You could assure these people that you are praying and proceed not to, and I’m pretty sure no harm would come of it, no one would be the wiser, and they might be pleased. But that’s not an honest or beneficial course to take, especially if your response is as public as a Facebook posting. Why pretend to believe in things you don’t when there are so many things you actually do believe in?

Your idea of promising to keep the person in your thoughts is fine. I sometimes will say I’m rooting for someone, or wishing them good things, such as a full and speedy recovery.

Even better, if it’s at all actionable and not just lip service, is to figure out what would be helpful and do what you can to deliver it. I bristle when people say, “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you, anything at all” if I believe they’d be stunned (and probably unavailable) if I actually suggested something they could do. But there are many things almost anyone can do to make another person feel better. For instance, send flowers, or food, or reading material, or yourself to a home-bound friend or one in the hospital. Offer to entertain the kids, walk the dog, tidy up the house, take the patient out for a meal or movie, or give the primary caregiver a break for a few hours. Be creative, like the lovely people who made a video of my garden in full bloom when I was incapacitated and unable to see it in person. You get the idea.

Vowing to pray, even if you were to carry it out, is just as valuable as doing nothing. But figuring out if there’s something real and concrete you can do—even if it’s just keeping in touch or being a good listener—is worth so much more, the beneficiary will never notice that you didn’t pray.