Please Don’t Pray for Me

Dear stranger who announces that you are praying for me,

Please don’t.

These moments feel more like an attack and an invasion of privacy than well wishes. That deep inhalation you take before grabbing my hand out of my lap and looking deep into my eyes – the moments before you say the dreaded and unnecessary thing – are all for your benefit. I get nothing but an injection of pure, unadulterated rage out of this encounter.

There is a reason, dear stranger, that I am looking at the floor, my phone, a magazine. There is a reason my eyes are trained away from yours. I can feel it coming because I feel you looking at me – all sad eyes and repeated glances in my direction – and from the way you say, “Good morning” when I enter the room. It is not my last morning on this planet. It is not that good – or bad – of a morning either…until you begin proclaiming.

Know this: It is wildly inappropriate for you to approach me while I am in the middle of a PT session, checking out at the grocery store, entering the Post Office to buy stamps, waiting for my dog at vet – while I am waiting in any number of lines at any number of businesses. This out-of-the-blue affirmation serves three purposes, and I’ll tell you, dear stranger, none of them are good.

1. You identify me as different

You identify me as different, as suffering or having no quality of life, as un-able, and most importantly, as being on the whole less than you.

I don’t think any of these things are your express purpose in publicly declaring that you are praying for me, and I know it’s really difficult for able-bodied folks to see those of us with visible disabilities as having a good life. But by immediately judging the visibly disabled as suffering, as people in need of prayers and good will, you assume that we are both unable to have “normal” lives and that the lives we currently lead are miserable, limited, and far less meaningful or contented than your own.

I realize that I walk with a cane, that I have a wonky gait and a complicated leg brace on my right leg, and that I shave my head. I am aware that I stand out, but that’s not intentional – or avoidable – and it is definitely not an invitation for you to drop your baggage at my feet. Dear stranger, try to let me blend in as much as I can. Or at least pretend that you don’t think the disabled are lepers in need of your mercy and good cheer. Fake it until you make it, if you have to.

2. You pity me

This is something I have gotten used to. Even my mother pities me some days and requires a stern reminder of why she shouldn’t, but dear stranger, you don’t know me. You don’t know that I shave my head because I hate my hair and have a beautiful skull that deserves to be shown off. You don’t know that I have a job I love, two dogs and a husband I love even more, amazing friends, and a life that I am not all that miserable about. Just because my body is a piece of shit doesn’t mean my life is shit, too.

My physical struggles have taught me a lot, and these are lessons you likely won’t understand until you’re facing life-altering or life-threatening illness. I’m a few steps ahead of you, even if those steps are hesitant and janky.

I move through my crippled life with a lot of gratitude – and a lot of frustration and grief, of course. But the frustration and grief are mine to own, mine to identify with, mine to comment on. You don’t get to puke your pity and prayers at what is mine to grieve, dear stranger. You can and should bear witness silently from where you sit. You might learn something.

3. You are afraid you could one day be disabled

Judging my physical differences as less-than and then adding pity to the mix tells me a lot about you. I now know that you are terrified you will one day face something akin to the physical struggles I face. You are praying for me, maybe, but you are also praying that you don’t ever become like me.

This bit makes me sad for you. Your imagination is limited. Your faith in yourself and your ability to be resilient are in need of some TLC.

The moral of the story is this, dear stranger: Say your prayer if you want to, but keep it to yourself. It’s the announcement more than the prayer that is the real issue anyway.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (29)
  • Nobu
    8 months ago

    I even find that comment “I’ll pray for you” offensive from my mom. As if a prayer or something else like that has any impact. Wish me well, but treat me like the human I am. I have limitations, many people do with or without MS. Speak with me, not at me. Just put me in a bit of a twist on this.

  • lightweaver
    9 months ago

    I have heard I’ll pray for and I change it in my mind to I’ll think of you. People need to know that there statements are not helpful and not needed.

  • RobWelsh
    9 months ago

    These God memes worked better before so many people got the Internet. Someone might come out with God 2.0 for progress.

  • Azjackie
    9 months ago

    I enjoy the many prayers. I figure the more well wishes and help the better.

  • potter
    9 months ago

    I get the “I’m going to pray for you”, from friends, family and strangers. I just let them, I try not to stress about anything, and it might do some good. I have 11 relatives that have dies from ALS of MS, they are watching over me and trying to help when they can. A little more prayer may help, after all I am not a perfect person. Potter

  • wiisio
    9 months ago

    At the risk of getting some out inflammatory replies, I am offended as a Christian with MS, by your assumption that people who want to pray for you are doing so out of pity for you or out of a desire to never have MS. You are making assumptions about them, just as you say they are making assumptions about you. How dare you?! He who is without sin can cast the first stone! For shame.

  • meghmacn author
    9 months ago

    I’m sorry you are so offended. Perhaps my message wasn’t clear. I did share this with some Christian friends before sending it out into the world. One of them shared this Bible passage, which perhaps puts my message in more translatable terms: Matthew 6:2, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”.
    It’s about the announcement. Not the intention.

  • Jan
    9 months ago

    Hi Meghmacn, I will comment. (And I need to spend more time on this site, as I’m really liking it). I have learned long ago: please all, please none. I am a Christian (have been for 30 years, though please don’t ask me to recite the Books of the Bible in order–I can’t. Even still. I also think that absorbing the content is more important–what good is an “A” grade if I’ve not really learned the content? I know, both are preferred).

    I will now speak to you, LuvMyDog, and others (I like dogs, too, but we unfortunately don’t have one. Loved my adopted standard poodle years ago, though. Okay, I’ll stay on point now).

    Your article spoke to me in positive ways (see my reply below). I think you got to the core of what some of us may experience.

    Fellow Christians, here is my take on this: we are all living in a sinful world. We are neither perfect nor robots. We have free will. But do I truly “get” why my sister had breast cancer and why her childhood friend died from it? Why a friend’s husband died from a more rare form of cancer at age 50? Why I had to give up a skating passion and deal with MS? Why my family has to be a part of this beast? Why there is so very much suffering in the world? (Read the paper. MS is no fun, but lots of people go through really hard stuff).

    Why ___, why, ___ why ___? No, I don’t truly get it all. And I think that there are just some things that NO ONE (pastors, scholars, seminary grads, named preachers, etc.) get either, I suspect. We are all human. Regardless of status, celebrity, etc., we are either growing older or dying (not mutually exclusive things). As Christians, we often do pray–the Bible commands us to. But it doesn’t mean that we will get what we want or even understand things. The “why” thing is dangerous. I myself prefer “what now.”

    As was said in last week’s Sunday sermon, the past is the past–can’t change it; no one can really predict the future (sorry, Ocrevus maker
    Genentech–I still won’t try it with a high JCV reading and not one to play Russian Roulette with PML), but we can live in the present (not that we can’t learn from and improve upon the past or plan for the future).

    I have Christian friends, and I have non-Christian friends. Longtime friends and new. And I have many acquaintances. (Conversations vary, but a key to that is the word, “respect”). In fact, my neurologist is gay. We really like him. He’s my neurologist still because I like his expertise, humor, responsiveness and relational talk. I don’t discriminate–and likely drive all of the neurologists I’ve seen somewhat crazy with my 13 years of no MS meds! Some Christians would not see him for obvious reasons. Not I: he does his job. If I go only for exclusivity, what message am I sending overall? (Give me this Dr. over a staid Christian solely because he’s a Christian any day). WWJD? Did Jesus care about those he did not agree with? Read the Bible. He wasn’t some guy attracted only to like-minded celebs.

    So, I think that we all read things coming from our own perspectives. It isn’t always easy to write, and especially so when people may be offended. I get that, I really do–both ways. So I think that the key thing is to aim for understanding and respecting. Hint: “I feel” first-person perspective statements work wonders:

    Have an opinion to share? I’ll read and keep in mind your thoughts and perspective. Have a rebuttal? Consider telling your own perspective but also please respect the writer’s opinion. (This goes for me when I read, too, by the way). Decisions–I will likely not reply on one MS site newer to me because of a high, stated focus on meds (and I’m not taking them) that can frustrate me. Will likely not even look much there. But I should not, I think, criticize those who do take meds–it’s their choice, and it’s up to me to respect that. This all applies to me, too–I won’t just nix the site now altogether because it contains good exercises, I think. It’s his site, and it’s his direction.

    As a Christian, there are absolutes. But Jesus sought more to understand and minister, not to judge. My goal is to understand, have empathy, relate…and sometimes just agree to disagree.

    I myself liked the post and appreciated your perspective that spoke to me.

  • LuvMyDog
    9 months ago

    Well now, l think if prayers ACTUALLY WORKED……we wouldn’t have MS.
    My sister wouldn’t have died from colon cancer.
    My brother wouldn’t have been struck by a train, cut in half and killed.
    My husband wouldn’t have died in his sleep of a massive heart attack.
    My mother wouldn’t have died young from something that is usually easily cured.
    My father wouldn’t have died from lung cancer.
    Many of my beloved dogs wouldn’t have died from kidney failure and other illnesses….because I did pray day and night for them!
    Thousands of beautiful innocent dogs would not be tortured and killed and eaten in Asian countries….because in the past I have prayed for them.

    I used to pray for a lot of things and finally realized that praying doesn’t work and believing in a god is like believing that Snow White and her seven dwarves was a real honest to goodness story or maybe that, pigs can fly!!

    Not everyone is a jesus freak! If you choose to be, fine. But do NOT chastise those who are not or those of us who do not like the phony crap coming out of people’s mouths. I am polite to most people I meet but I am also truthful.

    “Sin” is defined as: “breaking a religious or moral law.”
    I am not a religious person but I am not an immoral person, I’ve spent a great many years helping helpless and innocent animals and people as well…..so I guess I can feel free to pick up and big stone and hurl it!!

  • tigersleeve
    9 months ago

    Wow – when you unload it’s with both barrels (glad someone has the fire in the belly to do so).

    I can personally identify with your First premise – the wonky gait, using a cane (no brace yet). Do I let people open and hold doors for me – yes. Do I let people carry my tray or paper plate for me – again, yes. Do I make crazy comments like “I should move to New York and become a doorman – my cane makes a great door stop” – once more, yes.
    I also open and hold doors for ladies. Even before MS got me, I asked people “can I help you” if I saw they were struggling – and I still do so. But if you are managing to perform whatever it is you’re doing – you go! I’ll wonky gait on my way – but I’ll keep an eye on you just in case.

    I haven’t gotten the “I’m going to pray for you from strangers” yet, but hopefully won’t make assumptions about why they say it.

    And you are perfectly correct in saying “Let me try, and I’ll ask if I need assistance”. Being treated differently because of our MS makes it just that much more difficult. We can have fulfilling lives as we are and like any other group generally dislike being treated differently just because we are.

    As to your Second and Third premise – I don’t like it when someone judges me by my cane and bum arm even though they are clear indicators that something is wrong with me. I’ll thank them for their thoughts and try not to judge them as I don’t know their intentions for saying it.

  • marigoldg
    9 months ago

    I live in the Bible-belt South. I grew up and lived in California the majority of my life. It outrages me that so many people here *assume* that everyone shares their particular spiritual belief system and tells me how much they will pray for me. Or even worse, ask me if I am “right with the Lord” and/or “have made my peace with God.”

    These are people I don’t know, who don’t know me and will probably never see again. To me, their assumptions are an intrusion and unwelcome. They don’t even take the time or make the effort to ask me anything about my life or my beliefs. They’re more focused on projecting their own beliefs to make themselves feel better that they are being “good Christians”. I don’t have anything against Christians, I just don’t want to be projected on. I don’t go out of my way to wish a Buddhist koan on them, so don’t push a prayer on me.

    Thank you for your post. It’s a topic we don’t talk about often.

  • Jan
    9 months ago

    Mariboldg, this is not my blog, so perhaps I should not comment, but here goes anyway: we love CA! And I think you are brave to move to the South. I’m from the Midwest and now live farther south of there, sometimes in a whole different world, it can feel.

    I am a Christian and also have a few Muslim friends. They’re lovely people. I’m sorry for what you are going through. I myself won’t say “y’all” — just not me. (You likely hear it often). There are some really kind, genuine people in my area here, as there are everywhere really. I think I understand where you are coming from, and we, too, can get frustrated when people are bold without inviting it. There’s just a time and a place for things, I think. And it again reminds me of the words, “understand and respect.” Sigh.

  • Jan
    9 months ago

    oops, spelling error on your name, sorry!

  • meghmacn author
    9 months ago

    I had to laugh when you mentioned the koan. Maybe that’s a comeback I can try in the future…there are quite a few good ones in a Leonard Cohen book I revisit from time to time.

  • Alina Ahsan moderator
    9 months ago

    Marigoldg, moving from California to the South must have been such a change! Those questions can really be instrusive, and I’m sorry you have to deal with them. I’m glad this story resonated with you- you’re definitely not alone in feeling frustrated when dealing with these comments! Thanks for sharing,
    -Alina, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • LuvMyDog
    9 months ago

    Very well said.
    I am someone who is very outspoken and I tell people exactly what I think of the things they say to me.
    A few days ago I was in the grocery store and a fellow shopper cut in front of me with his carriage. He smiled, I smiled and said, “be careful, I don’t want to run you over!”
    When I started down the aisle he was in, he waited, seemed like he just wanted to share a little conversation. I seem to meet a lot of people who for whatever reason, need to talk to a stranger if only for a minute.
    We chatted for a few minutes and he reached out, touched my arm and said, “god bless you, I’ll pray for you.”
    That changed my whole demeanor.
    I shot back, “Don’t say that to me, first of all…I don’t believe in any god and you might as well be praying to a door knob for all the help you get from prayers.”
    He apologized, wished me a good day and as I started walking away, he said again, “god bless you…” followed by…”oooops, sorry, it’s just something I say to everyone. I thought everyone believed in god.”
    I’m not everyone.

  • Jan
    9 months ago

    I’m going to reply to that one, LuvMyDog (and then move on with my day that got a whole lot shorter): I think that all of that is understandable. Some people just talk that way, like the woman at the post office. And not everyone shares in that kind of talk–as a Christian, I don’t always like it myself, actually. When taking the time to get to know someone, it means just that–knowing that person and relating on the other person’s level/perspective, not necessarily one’s own. And it can give Christians a bad name.

    I mostly hate drug commercials, but one of them unrelated to MS uses the phrase, “See me…see me…see me.” I think we humans just relate when people care enough to see us, to truly relate to us. And with MS, I can be more sensitive and offended in a way when people treat me differently. No one likes to be marginalized. I don’t, anyway.

  • meghmacn author
    9 months ago

    I can totally relate to this experience. From friendly to awkward in 0.5 seconds.

  • Alina Ahsan moderator
    9 months ago

    Hi LuvMyDog,
    I’m sorry you had to deal with the shopper making assumptions about you- that can be so frustrating! I’m glad you were able to speak up.
    -Alina, MultipleSclerosis.net Team

  • LuvMyDog
    9 months ago

    No Alina, I wouldn’t call it frustrating, it just annoys me when people assume that EVERYONE on this planet believe in a “god”, I do not. Therefore, I kind of resent someone looking at me with a look of concern saying they will pray for me….which to me, would make about as much sense as talking to a door knob about a broken leg.
    I have no problem speaking up, to anyone.

  • Shasha
    9 months ago

    Just say thank you! Everyone can use prayers. They don’t understand and you can’t explain in one sentence. They mean well. Goodwill is what people need. Be in peace/harmony with all not just those who are friends. I have MS but they don’t see it due to me doing natural help. NO gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO/food with a label…taking vitamins/good oils/minerals…probiotic…LDN…detoxing. Being grateful gives you more blessings than pushing away the good. Prayers are good. God is real and God can help. I know what you mean, but accepting love instead of pushing brings blessings. Pray for the little baby in London who has his “life support” removed and they won’t give the parents the child to take to another doctor and want the child dead instead of get “real help”. God bless!

  • Alina Ahsan moderator
    9 months ago

    Hi Shasha, I’m glad that prayers from others encourage you and lift you up. Everyone is different, so some things that help you feel better might not help everyone else. I’m sure there are others in the community that agree with you, just like many people agree with the author! Thanks for your comment and for sharing your perspective,
    Take care,
    Alina, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • Devin Garlit moderator
    9 months ago

    meghmacn, very, very well said! Thank you for sharing!

  • meghmacn author
    9 months ago

    Thank you! I love that others can relate, too.

  • SolveigMar
    9 months ago

    Meghmacn, I’m not sure if it was you or me writing the above letter! Im being facetious of course, I’ve not gone of my rocker – yet. But I could have written it. All but the cane, two dogs, brace on the leg and the shaved head. Those I don’t have, you’re one step ahead of me at that. But I’ve all the rest, and mainly the laboured very stiff gait and a stiff arm to go with it. You can see my disability from miles away if I’m walking, or should I say hobbling about?

    There’s only a number of people who treat me like a person(not counting family that is), and that’s educated, socially educated people, people who have been through the mill themselves or have or have had a loved one in a similar situation. The list ends there. I won’t go into repeating the behaviour what you’ve already described, you’ve done a fine job indeed.

    I read your letter to my husband, I said, it’s like I wrote this myself! I could actually feel the rage spilling out from you over these issues, they make me feel the same. It brings the worst out of me, a person I hardly recognise myself. Sometimes I catch myself not wanting to go places where I have to walk a fair bit in public view, not because I can’t, but because I cant handle the staring and offers for help! I know i should brace myself and not take notice, and most times this is what i do, put a brave face on and carry on, but deep down it always hurts.

    And as if strangers aren’t bad enough, you then have the friends who back out because “you have your health to consider now”… As if this will go away, and we can get together afterwards?? And, even worse, there’s the ex friends. People you haven’t seen for ages because you had fallen out with, had been offensive, you didn’t like them? And they appear to say they heard the news (when on earth was it in the paper?) and they know it must be difficult. And they proceed to send you their wishes every now and again….

    Do you hear my blood boiling?

    Well, let me see. I haven’t died, nor am I planning to. I still work, I have a cleaner who comes in twice a week but then again I always did, I still drive my kids around (ok, so my husband helps a bit more on this these days), I’ve swaped gym for physio and we still go on long summer holidays every year.

    Apart from my external appearance, and namely the way I walk, not so much has changed about me to justify such change in the people around me. I wonder who the cripple is…

  • meghmacn author
    9 months ago

    Yes! The friends and family, too, withtheir own brands of pity. It’s painful. I hate having to leave the house, and I always try to get to places early so I don’t have to deal with my friends pandering to me when we meet out and about. I hear you.

  • Kim Dolce moderator
    9 months ago

    meghmacn, I’m breathless from your spot-on perceptions of people’s fears and motives! I especially loved these thoughts: You are praying for me, maybe, but you are also praying that you don’t ever become like me. . . This bit makes me sad for you. Your imagination is limited. Your faith in yourself and your ability to be resilient are in need of some TLC.

    This is absolutely brilliant writing. I hope we hear more from you.

    –Kim, moderator

  • meghmacn author
    9 months ago

    Thanks, Kim! I love hearing that this resonates with others. It’s not just me dealing with these kinds of situations.

  • Jan
    9 months ago

    Wow…spot on, I’d say.

    At year 13 here and still often acting as if I should be 21 years younger (can’t, really), a very kindly woman at my local P.O. does the, “I’m praying for you” thing most times when I go there. Unlike when in high school, I’m often a talker now (but not invasively about myself or others–just friendly). I am actually a Christian and am rather aware of prayer. And of this fallen world in which much is imperfect. I speak with some key friends about faith. Those who know me, well, know me. And I do retain my humor.

    So, this kindly woman is who she is and truly means well. But that “I’m praying for you,” when I hear it kind of makes me cringe because of thoughts that can flow later. So if you are praying for me, and telling me so, why do I still have this MS beast? Not enough faith? Wrong eating or supplements? Some issue I’m not even aware of? Not enough ____ (fill in the blank).

    No, sorry, I can’t zero in on this, and I doubt that you can, either. Pray if you want, but pray to yourself with God. I truly think that she means only good, but I don’t think that she realizes the potential impact. While it may be a challenge to overlook, just ignore the store’s Mart Cart I take and treat me like anyone else. Ah…but that’s just likely it. She does. And that is my current angst: just let her be her and come to accept it, or educate with your great article.

    I’ll pray about that one.

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