This is why you shouldn’t tell people to pray about it

Repeat after me: I’m here to listen when you’re ready.

If you don’t already know, I’m a cancer. Whether or not you believe in astrology, cancers are generally known to be very emotional, sympathetic, nurturing and loyal. Because of those traits I think people are naturally drawn to me. And what does that mean? I’m always listening to someone’s life story whether I know them well or not. People from all walks of life feel comfortable telling me the good, bad and ugly about their jobs, kids, relationships etc. And every time I listen intently and feel for them. However, one thing I don’t do is tell these people to pray about it. And you shouldn’t tell people to pray about it either.

Telling people to pray when they are struggling may be doing more harm than good.
Telling people to pray when they are struggling may be doing more harm than good.

I’m a member of a few private mommy groups on Facebook in which mom’s in need ask questions about troubling situations from time to time. Whether it’s regarding issues with a child’s father, loss of WIC benefits or a child struggling with ADD the most common response is, “Just pray about it”. And I absolutely hate it.

Admittedly, responses could be worse. There could be mommy shaming, name calling, and straight up ignoring the person. Still, “Just pray about it” is  right up there with top things you just shouldn’t say to someone in need. I know because I’ve been there. Telling people, especially someone you don’t know, to pray about it, could be doing more harm than good.

I know what its like to feel ignored, dismissed and trivialized when  dealing with something difficult. Little do you now, someone suggesting that prayer was the answer to all my problems can trigger all those feelings. I’d usually walk away feeling even more defeated than before. If someone I don’t know well tells me to “just pray about it” in response to my problem I may walk away thinking the following:


“What does praying have to do with this situation?”

“I already prayed so I guess I’m hopeless. There’s still no help.”

“So you think my issue is so trivial it can be solved so easily with prayer?”

“That’s so condescending.”

“Clearly you don’t care enough about me to offer any other suggestion than the ones you will give to any stranger.”


The list goes on and on. Of course, when it comes from someone who’s a very good friend with whom I have that relationship with, I  could be grateful for the suggestion. It could be exactly what I needed to hear at the moment. However, you never know; especially if it’s someone you don’t share a relationship with. So it’s much better and safer to avoid saying, “you should pray about it”

Most likely, the person giving words of prayer is coming from a warm and loving place. However, the recipient may not feel that way. There’s a good chance the recipient is feeling judged, ignored and hopeless.

While we’re on the tails of the unfortunate suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain it’s important to remember that prayer is not the answer to everything. It’s a lot like those “thoughts and prayers” Facebook posts that pop up after a school shooting. It sounds nice in theory, but it’s really not doing anybody any good. Action, not prayer solves problems. What prayer can do for some people is bring them a little peace as they sort out their issues. The emphasis is on SOME people. For other people, it does absolutely nothing and makes them feel even worse than before.


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The truth is telling someone to just pray about an issue is making a lot of assumptions about the person. First of all, you are assuming that the person has a relationship with some higher power and is religious. It makes the assumption the person is suffering because he or she didn’t pray and it’s somehow punishment for it.

Lastly, it’s making the assumption that the person hasn’t already prayed about it. For all you know, the person has been praying about it and feels as though those prayers are going unanswered. I know this is a controversial statement to make, but it’s important to remember religion and prayer cannot solve problems for all people. What brings solace to one person can bring heartache and trouble to another.

Additionally, when someone is struggling, it’s important to remember that the person is not you.

Maybe prayer does no good for that person because she doesn’t believe in god.

Maybe the person is having a hard time with religion in light of the recent times.

Maybe faith is the only thing keeping this person going and your suggestion that he should just pray about it because they don’t have enough faith is making them feel less than.

And maybe prayer brought her to you in asking for help… so please don’t ruin the moment by reminder her to pray about it. She could’ve done that already.

That being said there are times that the reminder to pray can help someone. But I urge you to only say it if you have to and confident the recipient will appreciate it.

Otherwise, the next time you feel compelled to tell a struggling person to pray, just don’t. I know it’s often hard to know what to say.

I’ve found saying, “I’m here to listen whenever you are ready,” is often the most helpful thing you can say to someone who is struggling.

Has anyone responded to your problems with, “just pray about it” Was it helpful?

TERRIficWords – Sometimes it’s what we don’t say that says the most.








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  1. Yes, my husband that is a Pastor prays with me and encourages me to pray. While I am not one to first tell anyone to pray about a situation, I have encouraged them by letting them know that I am available as an ear, and that I personally will be praying for them. It’s true that we don’t know everyone or that we’re not in the situation, which is why being empathetic to their plight is of the utmost.
    I have a strong faith, I believe in God, and I pray a lot. I am also friends with atheists and agnostics alike and when they go through things I listen. I listen with the intent of understanding and not with the intent to reply. Most people don’t do that these days. I will also say that I’ll pray for you, not because it’s something to say, but because I actually will and not because I’m a judging person.

  2. I agree with this so much and I’m actually working on a project about this very topic! That phrase is so dismissive, and though it may be said in good spirit, it doesn’t help the situation at all. I wish more people understood that.

  3. I agree! Thoughts and prayers are great and needed but sometimes we need to more action. You’re so right this could come off as dismissive or that they don’t care about what people are really going through.

  4. When my husband died, so many people told me to just pray. I tried not to let it bother me but truly those words did not help in the moment. I don’t think anyone forgets how to pray when they are dealing with life struggles. Plus when people share a struggle, they may need your prayers without you having to mention it. Intercessory prayer matters.

  5. As a Christian, I definitely agree with this to a degree. I will only say this in certain situations, and if I really know the person and know how religious they are. The people I say this to I can tell just need a reminder that it’s in God’s hands. However, I do love your points, especially when you said “And maybe prayer brought her to you in asking for help…” And simply saying “I’m here to listen” is definitely a great thing to say whether you also tell them to pray about it or not. But I would never tell a stranger to pray about it. I have enough agnostics (actually married to one) and atheists in my life to know better. But this article will definitely help me keep in mind to second guess myself before I say it to anyone! You have to think of other’s and how they will take your words, no matter how well you might mean. Thanks!

  6. Girl! Sometimes we need to take action instead of prayer. I find black people love to say “I will pray for you” instead of asking if there’s something they can do to actually help the person.

  7. I think most often people say that when they don’t know what to say. I’m all for prayer still, I try to offer other words of encouragement. Saying “just pray about it” can come off as casual and like you’re just ready to move on to the next thing.

  8. I absolutely hate to hear “Just pray about it.” That does nothing for the person, it does nothing to change the situation. You can pray if you want but that is not a single fixer. Pray for me, but don’t tell me to just pray.

  9. Yes telling someone to pray about it is very dismissive and condescending. The whole reason why people are asking for help because its beyond just praying every day someone need solutions that might actually lead to the answer to the prayer. I think its just a knee jerk reaction to some people they have nothing else to say so they suggest that!

  10. I have never had someone say this to me luckily. I don’t know how I would respond if I did! Like you said, it makes assumptions about the other person’s belief system. It’s advice giving, which is never great if it’s unsolicited. I am a cancer too, and have a lot of the same qualities that you described above and often find people telling me their deep dark secrets or confiding in me things they don’t tell most people. It’s been like this since I was a kid! 🙂

  11. I believe in the power of prayer, however, prayer without works does nothing. So while I may suggest let’s pray I’m also going to suggest to brainstorm some solutions if its something that we can solve. I think in our culture “just pray about it” is said because the older generation felt at times this was all they could do, however, we are a more advanced generation and a lot of times we can find some solutions. Prayer works, and it may even clear your head to find a better solution in my opinion.

  12. I think the misunderstanding with “Pray about it” is that people really mean to take it to the Lord, leave it on the altar and do your best NOT to worry.
    That’s one way to pray vs. begging God over and over to fix what you want fixed.

  13. Thank you for sharing this. I agree that the saying, “Just pray about it” is assuming the person did not pray already. I find the statement to be dismissive and invalidating. I think some that do say it mean well, but instead of saying they don’t know what to say, or how to assist, saying, “just pray about it” sounds nicer. not everyone who goes to church, or says they are a Christian is the right person to confide in.

    1. Exactly. I do think most people who say it are well-intentioned. However, as you pointed out you can’t confide in everybody – Christian or not. I just think that we all need to be more aware of what we say even when coming from a good place.

  14. Thank you for this post I tried sharing it with a family member whose first response is always to just pray about it and he just said that my faith wasn’t strong enough. He also doesn’t think I have bipolar depression but whatever. Maybe after I die he’ll just pray about it. Thank you for trying to educate the world…but they just don’t want to listen.

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