Wait, What? Should We Add “Thoughts and Prayers” to the 2022 Banished Words List?

Lists are compiled every year of worn-out words. Would you add “thoughts and prayers” to the list?

Is It Cliché to Say Cliché?

Why say something worn out when you can say something fresh?

I’m ASKING FOR A FRIEND. (Phrases in ALL CAPS are words from the list of misused and overused Banished Words for 2022.)

I can tell you one reason why we stick with clichés:

Because clichés are easy.

It’s hard to think of new ways to say things.

Image: 2022 Banished Words List

What About “Thoughts and Prayers”?

Let’s take a DEEP DIVE into the current controversy over the phrase “thoughts and prayers.”

Should “thoughts and prayers” be on the banished words list, too?

For many people, sending “thoughts and prayers” is sending a gift of attention and faith so God will work wonders.

It’s their gift of NO WORRIES to the recipient.

THAT BEING SAID, to many other people, hearing “thoughts and prayers” means the person praying is done, with no plans to actually help in person themself.

To the receiver, “thoughts and prayers” sounds like a shortcut, a cop-out, a sidestepping of responsibility. They want to scream, “YOU’RE ON MUTE.”

WAIT, WHAT? So am I suggesting we should stop sending “thoughts and prayers“?

A Deeper Dive

Let’s look at it from both sides.

One Side:

As a believer myself, I trust God listens to my prayers.

God wants me to share my heart’s desires and needs. I ask God for help. My prayers naturally include my concern for others. I want my friends to receive help, too.

The Other Side:

But also as a Christian, even I tire of hearing myself say and hearing others tell me “I’m praying for you.”

Especially if what someone (and myself) really needs is an answer to prayer: a human being in the flesh sent by God to offer a helping hand or a listening ear or a shared meal.

In other words, we often need for someone to be the embodied answer to the prayer.

But does it have to be either/or? Either pray or else do something?

Can it be both/and? Both pray and do something?

Maybe we can keep the SUPPLY CHAIN from breaking if we combine “thoughts and prayers” with words and deeds.

If possible, can we allow our actions to speak louder than our clichés?

Our New Normal

Maybe our NEW NORMAL might be to not only say, “I’m sending thoughts and prayers,” but also do this: back up those thoughts and prayers, when possible, with something tangible.

  • Maybe that’s a hug.
  • Or a word of encouragement.
  • Or an offer to babysit.
  • Or a call to a legislator.
  • Or a closer listen.
  • Or a donation to the cause.

When I commit to pray for someone, optimally I also commit myself to be the embodied answer to that prayer, in whatever way God shows me.

“God, show me what I can do to help you help my friend.”

I don’t want to toss all the work on God when God intends us to work together.

Partnering with God is invaluable.

Circle Back

Maybe we can’t cure our neighbor’s cancer or stop the war in Ukraine with our thoughts and prayers, but we can ask God to move us—to use us—to check in on our neighbor’s family or be kinder to an immigrant struggling with English in our line at the grocery store.

So to CIRCLE BACK, instead of only sending thoughts and prayers, let’s think of new phrases to say and actions to do alongside “I’ll be praying for you,” such as:

  • I’ll check on you again tomorrow to see what you need.
  • This is hard, so I won’t leave you alone in this.
  • Let’s talk together to sort things out.
  • I’ll watch with you for God to show us the next step.
  • Tell me again so I can better understand how you feel.

And here are some more:

Image: New Ways to Reframe I'll Pray for You

AT THE END OF THE DAY, thoughts and prayers themselves can’t be used too often.

But saying only “I’m sending thoughts and prayers” can be overdone.

I’m not ready to add “thoughts and prayers” to the banished words list.

Maybe we can use more thoughts and prayers to hear fresh ideas from God.

Then use more words and deeds to spread God’s love to others.

See all 10 words here from the Banished Words List for 2022.

What word or phrase do you think is overused? Share your thoughts in the comments.

More to Think About: 

14 thoughts on “Wait, What? Should We Add “Thoughts and Prayers” to the 2022 Banished Words List?

  1. Martha J Orlando

    I agree that “thoughts and prayers” is overused, Lisa, but I’m not ready to retire them from my vocabulary. I love how you’ve paired them with action – that’s the perfect compliment to let the person know that you truly care.

  2. Barbara Harper

    I’m with banishing “deep dive.” I seem to hear that all the time.

    I think for some cliches, even for most, they’re good and true, but because of that they’re overused. I don’t think the problem is always with the cliche, but with our always wanting something new and fresh.

    I agree about “thoughts and prayers.” We shouldn’t banish the phrase–they’re evidence of someone’s care, and we all need them. But we shouldn’t stop there or make them a one-and-done (another cliche? 🙂 ) thing. We should keep thinking, praying, checking in, and seeing if there is anything practical we can do to help.

  3. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Lisa, this is an excellent, thoughtful post, and you show two sides, so imporant to consider.

    I think that the following passage from the book of James says it all, that we both pray and we act.

    But, bear in mind, that the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in today’s vernacular, which is being criticized by some, has to do with all the senseless gun violence, generally, and mass shootings, especially. Parents and teachers are weary and inconsolable at seeing their beloved, innocent children and students murdered, and the government, meant to protect them, doing nothing. “Thoughts and prayers,” in their estimation have done nothing both to help them and to prevent further needless murders (much less those daily in our American cities), so that is why they do NOT want to hear those words uttered, when juxtaposed with their massive grief. It is like pouring acid on their wounds.

    Surely, God is in heaven and hears and acts upon our prayers; we should and must pray. But often, He commands us to act as well. So, we do not give up praying, for indeed these bereaved parents need our prayers and God’s comfort. But is there more that we can *do* for them?

    And I have never understood the “thoughts” portion of that phrase. What does it mean?

    Thank you again for sharing, and here is the powerful biblical truth:

    “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless.” –James 2:14-20

  4. Barb Hegreberg

    Our words and actions should match. Lip service doesn’t help anyone. If you aren’t willing to put your money (or time) where your mouth is, it is probably best to keep your mouth shut!

  5. Donna

    Love the way you plumbed the depths of this topic Lisa. I will not miss ANY of the banished words. I agree “thoughts and prayers” sounds empty most of the time, and agree with Lynn, what’s with the “thoughts” and how is that helpful?

    Actions always have spoken louder than words, and in this age of cyber relationship, we may become lazy and resort to cliches and easy words to throw out.

    “But I’m more for ‘seeing” people and ensuring they know I see them IN their pain. I like to offer to pray in the moment with the person, and if online, I include my prayer right in my comment or reply so they can have it to keep.

    I also like to let people know “I am here for you”, whether that means sitting quietly with you, listening to you, or holding your hand; maybe even crying with you.

  6. Joanne Viola

    This was a thought provoking post, Lisa. I sat thinking on it for a while before hitting “reply”. My desire is that my words be said with authenticity. May the words I speak be heartfelt, may I follow through on them, so others know they are valued.

  7. Jean Wise

    I am glad you fully discussed this instead of just throwing this phrase out. I guess I feel a little possessive since I do use this phrase and do keep that person in my thoughts and prayers – it is Not just words but I do realize it is overused and more out of habit. I do like how the idea of action as a follow up. Very thought provoking and words that I continue to ponder!!

  8. Lauren Sparks

    I like your reframes. It’s the “thoughts” part of that phrase that has always bothered me. I am not helped at all by someone’s thoughts and it does feel very dismissive to me. When someone says they are praying for me, I know my God is listening and is working in the situation. Someone’s thoughts have never helped anyone. So pray for me – and then follow up if you are able. But prayer is work. And I’ll always accept it.

  9. Lydia C. Lee

    Really interesting post. I would assume for most people it’s like ‘sending my condolences’ or ‘hugs to you’ It’s saying something but doing nothing. It’s a passive comment. “How can I best support you?’ and “What do you need right now?” are active. They will require effort on the part of the person offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ (or they might. They might not). I think the intent is good of the ‘thoughts and prayer’ person but it’s just laziness to mask uncomfortableness with the situation (like ‘sending my condolences’). If someone said it to me, I’d just assume their intent is good but ignore them.

  10. David

    I loved this post Lisa! Thank you for cheering me up!

    Over here (Godless UK) “thoughts and prayers” is mostly used (on Twitter at least – where dead cliché comes back to life) to mock someone earnestly complaining of some “first world problem” (delayed train, tepid coffee, etc). Of course I can’t find an example now …


    But yes, we should be the answer to someone’s prayer, have the faith that God can use us in that way.

  11. Carol

    Your post is thought provoking. I appreciated the suggested actions. I am learning to offer to pray with my neighbor, Bible study partner, sister, church member as the need arises. I like the suggestion to follow-up.

  12. Tea With Jennifer

    Thank you Lisa.
    I think it’s a lovely sentiment to say if it’s actually followed through!
    For we can never under estimate the power of prayer especially requested in the name of Jesus. ?

  13. Ashley

    I don’t like the word “thoughts” with prayers. Thoughts really don’t mean anything. But if you’re a believer, then you are praying to the one who can actually change things. If the person isn’t a believer, you can always say that you are, and then ask to pray for them, if you’re there with them. If you’re not there, then pray for them right then. And sometimes, God does call you to do something. Sometimes He just asks you to be faithful to pray. And that’s still super important.
    But again, don’t like the word thoughts with prayers. Maybe, you’ve been on my mind and I’ve been praying for you?

  14. Richella J Parham

    Lisa, this is SUCH a clever post! And thought-provoking. I love it.

    The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has certainly been overused, hasn’t it? It seems that we started saying that as a way to communicate something lovely, but now it has become cliché, so another way to say it would be more meaningful. I appreciate your practical suggestions.

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