How do you feel when you know someone is praying for you?

I had my follow-up appointment on Tuesday from my knee surgery earlier this month. They removed the sutures, but unfortunately, I still can’t drive and must work from home for another four weeks. I start physical therapy next week so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Only three more weeks of crutches!

Before I left work for my surgery, several of my coworkers said I was in their prayers. I politely said thank you and went about my day even though I don’t believe in prayer. A coworker called me last week and said that he and some of my clients actually said a prayer for me at work. I think it’s sweet that they’re thinking of me, but at the same time, it’s just another reminder of how ostracized I feel at work.

I don’t work for a religious organization, but many of my coworkers are very vocal Christians. Unfortunately, god and church are frequent topics of conversation at the office which makes me very uncomfortable. I just don’t think work is the right place to have that kind of discussion. It’s not like it ever turns into a debate – they agree with each other – but it definitely makes me feel like I’m on the outside looking in. I always feel like I have to hide who I truly am just to function at work.

Obviously, I don’t think prayer does anything, but they do. Is it the intention that counts? Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you feel? What do you say when someone says they’ll pray for you?


  1. robert79 says

    I’m absolutely not in your situation, but personally I’d mentally replace the word “pray” with “hope” or “wish”, and answer “Thank you!”. If they know you’re an atheist you might answer with something like “Well, you know I don’t believe prayer does anything, but thanks for wishing me well!” (this *will* depend on the person!) But personally I would restrict that response to people with whom you’ve had similar debates before.

    These people are not positioning themselves to be your opponent in a philosophical debate. They know you are ill and genuinely wish you well, and do so in the way they’ve been accustomed/trained/conditioned to do. Their intent is nice, don’t treat it as a challenge.

  2. TGAP Dad says

    Your situation reminds me of my short stint at Meijer corporate office in Walker (Grand Rapids suburb), a place dominated by the christian reformed church. If you aren’t familiar with this particular sect, be thankful. Although Meijer was nominally a secular organization, many of the water cooler conversations revolved around the church – who was there, what was the topic, etc. To say I felt like an outsider is to drastically understate the situation.
    My brother tells of a salesman acquaintance who moved into the small town of Zeeland (where it’s even worse), and mowed his badly overgrown lawn the first Sunday. Within a half hour, three neighbors had torn him a new one for working on the sabbath.
    So, I feel your pain, sister.

    • lanir says

      Bothering people about the mowing the lawn on Sunday seems so unusual. That’s not even really the Sabbath. That would be Saturday.

  3. says

    How does it make me feel? That mostly depends on how I find out someone’s “praying for me.” If it’s a friend or relative sounding truly sympathetic, then I’m sincerely grateful that they’re thinking of me (which is, at best, what “we’re praying for you” is actually saying). If it’s someone I have no reason to trust saying it like it’s an indispensable favor that I’ll owe him a cookie for, well, thanks for nothing and I’ll see if your god responds to your prayer…

  4. Ada Christine says

    it’s a friendly-enough sentiment in this case. you’re recovering and they’re wishing you well in a way that seems colloquial to them. context matters, and to me the context isn’t one of condescension or disdain. it doesn’t help you, of course, that often the phrase is invoked in a more derogatory context where they see you as a sinner and in need of salivation and thus would ‘pray for you’.

    • says

      I agree with you on context — and there seems to be a lot of people who say “I’m praying for you” to mean “…to have something bad happen to you that’ll force you to come running back to our religion.”

  5. Katydid says

    I agree with everyone else that the intent behind that phrase is meant well in this case. I also agree that it’s utterly useless and if it were me in your shoes, I’d be really annoyed and frustrated.

    Where I live, if someone’s out of the office for a medical reason, the office chips in and gets them something like a gift card (e.g. Amazon) that lets them order stuff online, or a paid subscription to a meal delivery plan. Once we paid for a driver to take someone to PT.

    But then, doesn’t it seem to you that some people use their faith as a “get out of responsibilities free card”?

  6. says

    Normally it wouldn’t bother me. Maybe at the height of my vocal atheism I might have said something. But having someone call me specifically to tell me they prayed for me? That would creep me out. Depending on my relationship with them it’s possible I’d speak up, because at that point it would feel less like they care about me getting better and more about either showing me how much of a caring Christian they are or trying to convert me.

  7. mordred says

    Didn’t have anyone tell me that in real life since my grandmother died. She would frequently tell me she was praying for me and other family members or that she would light a candle for us in the church. I had stopped believing in her god when I was a young teenager and I was 33 when she died. I never said anything about it to her, as I generally didn’t see a point in discussing faith with her. It seemed unlikely either of us would change our mind and it would needlessly hurt her.
    I felt mostly indifferent to her praying for me. I know it meant that she thought of me and worried for me when I had stuff to deal with, and, especially when I had been a kid, she did much more for me than pray and think, so it was a part of her personality I really appreciated – on the other hand I had come to loathe the christian religion. I sometimes joked to my girlfriend that I really would prefer if she would not remind that evil god about me existence.

    I suppose faith is a more private matter here in Germany than in the US, it’s certainly not a topic that was talked about in any of my workplaces so far, and beyond grandma and maybe other elderly family members I never had anyone tell me they prayed for me like that.

    A different situation are of course the Christians I argued with online who would use “I’ll pray for you! (Sinner!)” as a rather condescending final argument. That felt rather differently.

  8. file thirteen says

    They are trying to be nice. I would just say “Thanks.” Best to choose your battles. It’s when they invite you to church/prayer group that you can say “Sorry, I’m not into that.”

  9. says

    If they are annoying and say they are praying for me, I say “And I’ll ask Santa to put you on the good boy list”. They have the same validity.

    If I care about them I’ll simply say well I don’t believe in god. And if they push it I’ll say the above in a different way like: “Well, saying that is like me saying that I’ll ask Santa to put you on the good boy list”. –> Just little less brusque but I figure they pushed first.

  10. StevoR says

    Depends on the person and context, if they mean well and are doing so becuase they like you and care about you and wish you the best its fine. So I’m tactful and acknowledge it as that and say thanks.

    If they’re being all passive aggressive about it and weaponise it as something intended badly for me obvs not so much.

  11. lanir says

    When I get this sentiment it always throws me off a little at first. Usually it’s not meant in a bad way but I feel like I need to stop and check before assuming that. In my experience there are plenty of christians who would very much like everyone to think they’re pious. In reality they’re offensive little twits who seem more like the pharisees in their new testament than Jesus.

    Afterward it doesn’t make me think very highly of the person who said it. If they clearly meant to be kind I’ll have to keep reminding myself of that. I’ve had people push their religion on me despite me clearly telling them not to so I guess I default to thinking of people as religious pests if they’re willing to bring their religion into my normal day to day life.

    I don’t have religious people around me who push their religion on me. I play roleplaying games with some people who are religious. Sometimes religion comes up but it’s all respectful talk and they’re actually curious about different perspectives, at least if they get the brief version on some specific topic. That’s about as close as I get to the experience our host Ashes has at work.

    If I had to deal with people like that on a regular basis I would hide at first. But as it seems to with Ashes, it would bother me. It would be an additional source of work stress that I don’t need. Eventually I would act to get rid of it.

    If I couldn’t find another job it would probably involve using their own beliefs against them. Matthew 6 can be thought of as having three components. The most popular christian prayer, the message about not needing real world riches because earning heavenly rewards are better, and a warning not to be showy about your faith. Churches absolutely adore the first two and spread those everywhere. I would humbly suggest that my personal faith is more in line with the last point (true – I don’t want to be bothered with other people’s religion) and that things like prayers at work make me feel like I’m doing that, like I’m putting on a display (also true – blending in is a facade). They could imagine I’m some sort of “weird” christian, ie not from their sect. I wouldn’t correct that assumption.

    I’m not sure if that would fix it, I guess it would depend on how “no true Scottsman” they want to be about their religious views. But I do know all the logical, respectful arguments I might make instead would have to fight a very difficult uphill battle. People only act like this if they think other views don’t exist or don’t matter.

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