Hurricane Sandy and the problem of “I’ll pray for you”

By: Tom Westerholm

There’s a picture floating around the internet of Times Square as Hurricane Sandy is crushing the East Coast. The famous New York City landmark is deserted. People have fled the oncoming storm for shelter, leaving just the photographer, who snapped a quick photo, and then presumably ran for cover herself, given that she posted it on Instagram shortly thereafter. The scene is one of desolation, that strange “I Am Legend” sort of emptiness that suggests that we are seeing a time when humans no longer dominate the Earth, but rather the other way around.

Sandy has wrecked devastation on the East Coast. The latest death toll, per several internet sources, has topped 62, and the damage to homes and businesses is catastrophic.

Every time a natural disaster hits the United States, it seems like Christians are faced with a choice: keep living like you usually do, or try to help people. Often, it seems that our solution is the former, as we keep the people at an arm’s length. We don’t have time to REALLY help, not with our busy schedules and all, but “I’ll pray for you.” I’d help, but I have to write this paper. I’d help, but I have work that day. I’d help, but this internship is too important. Sorry guys. But I’ll definitely be praying for you.

I always feel a little bit superfluous when I say “I’ll pray for you,” because in so many cases, “I’ll pray for you” really means “I’ll mention your name next time I’m asking God for something of my own.” It usually means “Wow, that sucks, but I feel like there’s nothing I can really do.”

So what does a midwest college student say to the victims of Hurricane Sandy? I go to college and I work at Wal-Mart, so my bank account isn’t much help. My $10, though well-intentioned, isn’t going to go very far toward restoring New Jersey. I live in Iowa, so I can’t help with the clean-up efforts. Sure, I’ll post pictures on my Facebook (awareness!) and I’ll retweet Twitpics of parking garages filling with water (look how socially conscious I am!), but all from my living room and the comfort of my own couch.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the situation. Just because my actions seem inconsequential doesn’t mean my intentions aren’t good, because I honestly am worried about the victims. I honestly care about their well-being.

Psalm 40 may offer some answers.

I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

I know, I know, “wait patiently for the Lord to answer your prayer” is absolutely the worst thing you can hear right now, if you are a victim of the hurricane. But I guess I find it encouraging to hear that sometimes God DOES allow things like this to happen. After all, to pull you up out of the horrible pit, the miry clay, first he has to allow you to fall into the aforementioned horrible pit/miry clay. The only real solution then (apart from appropriate action, of course) is to pray.

I know “I’m thinking and praying for you” sounds superfluous, but I really really wish it didn’t. I wish we hadn’t used it so much that it became watered down, void of its original meaning. Because I really do care, but in this case prayer is all I can do.

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