There is a disturbing phrase circulating in the aftermath of the most recent tragedy: (Y)our Prayers Are Not Enough. Arising from an (understandable) anger at seeing social evils and similar problems persist, it draws a false dichotomy between prayer and action, implying that you are either a person of prayer, or one of action. But the two are not now and never have been mutually exclusive. Prayer is an act of love for our fellow humans that is taken on the spiritual plane. And prayer is certainly indispensable to many people of action as they go throughout their lives. Of course I agree that it is not meant to replace interpersonal action. Christ commanded his disciples to pray AND act. Not to discard one for the other, more “real” or somehow more superior variety. Prayer is often misunderstood [only] as a means to change our circumstances, like some sort of wish-on-a-star to a Jiminy Cricket God. But it’s first and foremost meant to change us: to transform us and those we pray for with healing, peace, and strength. Is that really something we can do without?
To look at it another way: there are circumstances in my life and health in which the pain, difficulty, and frustration is ongoing. What if I blamed the prayers of others for that? I still have cerebral palsy and some days it sucks: your prayers are not enough! My mental and emotional wellness are still a constant battle: your prayers are not enough! I am still looking for a job and have had more heartbreaking disappointments on that front than I can count: your prayers are not enough! That would be a ridiculous, smug response. And it would be false. I am able to keep going because my faith and joy and peace have not run out, and that can only be a result of my loved ones going to battle in prayer for my heart and soul. Prayer is an action. It is an act of love for our fellow humans. It is an act of faith. It is something we cannot do without in this world.
Of course, I am not saying that prayer is all we can do, or all we should do, or that only people who pray can do good and make a difference. If we feel our conscience calling us to civic action, we can meet with or write/call our local leaders. If we feel it calling from our community, there are numerous organizations for which we can volunteer that are healing and strengthening our social fabric. If we are very limited on time, we can work with our mentors and spiritual leaders to make sure we are taking action to love our family, friends, and coworkers, and live peaceably with them. There is always something we can do, and always something we should do, to love our fellow people.
Facebook and the share button make it so easy to either convince myself I am taking action, or that my neighbor is not (whichever makes me feel best at the time). If I wanted to, I could spend hours scrolling down and fuming about how little others are doing, or just how wrong they’re getting a social issue or problem. But what action would I be taking other than that of the Pharisee: thanking God that I am not like other men, especially not that one on my feed? Instead, what if I spent my energy actually talking to a friend that needs help, or volunteering, or figuring out how to budget for more giving?
I understand and respect that we will not all have the same gifts to help the world around us; we will feel different calls to action and respond in different ways. For my part, I will continue to pray and continue to pay attention to my conscience and follow its call to action. I will strive not to shame my friends and neighbors if I can’t tell what their acts of love are, or if their callings and gifts to help are different or “smaller” than mine. If I find an action to take, I will try not to despair if my neighbor’s action seems more sweeping and grandiose. I will do my best not to look at others in contempt and judgement, with suspicion and comparison. I cannot stop my efforts to pray and act just because others make different choices or have different priorities, and I cannot let my fear and insecurity that I am not enough immobilize me when I am surrounded by hurting people who need love, friendship and prayer.
If you are looking for ways to take action to honor the lives of the people who were lost in San Bernadino, there are many wonderful organizations supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that need volunteers, advocates, friends and allies. Here are a few, but there are many more.
The Arc (find a local chapter)
Best Buddies (look on the left sidebar to search by state)