Autism and Asperger Articles, Bill Stillman, Award-Winning Author

Demystifying Autism From The Inside Out

“I’ll Pray for You”

By William Stillman

I’m wondering how many other people on the autism spectrum have had the experience of trying to communicate a point, or convey a perspective, in a rational and reasonable manner only to have the other party abruptly terminate the dialogue by stating, “I’ll pray for you”? This same such circumstance occurred to me recently and I must confess it has always left me with a bitter taste although, until now, I never stopped to analyze why.

When someone says, “I’ll pray for you” to someone with a different way of being, it may, in my opinion, be interpreted in several ways. Unfortunately, none of them are reasons that are sensitive or compassionate, as “I’ll pray for you” implies.

“I’ll pray for you” may be perceived as a pious dismissal, a quick and convenient way to cease a discussion in which the other party is becoming increasingly challenged—or even uncomfortable—to reflect beyond their comfort zone or to be open to learning something new and unique. They either haven’t been listening or don’t want to listen any further.

There may also be a certain degree of condescension that comes of the words “I’ll pray for you.” It may project an air of superiority, particularly if someone is feeling uncomfortable, because it allows them to feel as though they know best and, therefore, they should pity the misled and afflicted individual before them.

In my opinion, when “I’ll pray for you” has felt offensive it’s because someone has imposed their religious beliefs in what I believed was, up until that moment, an equable exchange. Now they have the last word. And it has always felt disingenuous; I have never believed the other party actually did make good on their word and really prayed for me. By the way, pray for what? And if they are sincere in their desire to pray for me, why not pray with humility rather than announce it?

“I’ll pray for you” is intrusive in suggesting I am somehow disparate and in need of that person’s intervention on my behalf (I have my own direct line to God, thank you). Why would the person proffering “I’ll pray for you” think it’s okay to implicate themselves into my spiritual belief system without first asking? How about may I or I’d like to invite you to…? What makes them think their prayer will benefit me if they’re only really praying for me to be “saved” or, more likely, that I’ll see things their way—my understanding of legitimate prayer is it doesn’t work that way. It is driven by love and compassion and a desire to be of service; not as a selfish device to placate one’s own motives.

The next time someone states “I’ll pray for you,” I’m still uncertain of exactly how I’ll react beyond a sheepish “Thank you.” But I do know that maybe it is I who will be the one praying—praying that a greater sensitivity may flourish in us all leading to an acknowledgment of our kindred humanity. Let’s join and pray together.

© 2008, William Stillman

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