“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
It’s a genuine response by some unable to say anything else in the face of another’s pain.
It may be cliché, but it is true: they are thinking, at least, of those left behind.
Uttered by others who might make a difference but refuse to even try, it is hypocritical, cowardly or both. Prayer is empty without some subsequent act to fill it.
Most of all, though, the words bear a staggering challenge.
How do you pray for people you’ve never met, living somewhere you’ve never been, struggling through a tragedy that few have ever faced?
And for whom do we pray? Those who have been violently ushered out? They are in the hands of a loving and merciful God.
Do I pray for their loved ones, their classmates or neighbors? What do I know of their grief, their torment or their fears?
We went to a prayer service planned after the shooting in Buffalo, and before it could even take place there was another in Uvalde.
How can we say “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” when there is no time to linger in either before death calls us to another killing field?
One thing we can do is make it personal.
Ruth Whitfield was more than a name on a casualty list. At 86, her husband was in a nursing home. She rode a bus nearly every day to visit and bring him clothes she had washed and ironed. She’d shave him, trim his nails and just sit and talk. Going home, she stopped to get groceries.
Jose Flores, was “Josecito” to his family. He played baseball in the Uvalde Little League. He loved all sports and most cars.
At 10, he wanted to be a cop. School was hard for him, but he just made the honor role. Then his life ended, not with cancer or in an accident, but from a hail of bullets piercing his little body.
If “our hearts and prayers are with you,” then we must lament, crying to God about all the suffering.
Death shouldn’t come like this. Ruth should be kissing her husband and Jose rounding second.
We should lament the loss of life, of dreams and of hope. Our lament should unveil the carnage, groan in pain, and fill us with anger.
We lay it all before God, praying “my soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”