The Mighty Logo

3 Things to Know About the Backlash to Chris Pratt's 'Prayers' for Healing

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Erin Migdol, The Mighty’s chronic illness editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Chris Pratt likely didn’t anticipate the conversation he would start when he tweeted that he was praying for director Kevin Smith, who had a heart attack on Sunday. But the actor ignited a debate about when prayers are appropriate to offer after a health crisis, and it’s a debate people with health challenges know all too well.

Smith tweeted on Sunday that he had a “massive heart attack” and that the doctor who saved his life said he had 100-percent blockage of his left anterior descending artery — also known as the “widow maker.”

“If I hadn’t canceled show 2 to go to the hospital, I would’ve died tonight,” he wrote.

In response, Pratt tweeted, “I’m praying my ass off” because he believes in the “healing power of prayer.”

“Can you please pray with me people!?” he wrote.

The replies to Pratt’s tweets included some who said offering prayers doesn’t actually help Smith in a real way. Others defended Pratt, saying prayers can help lift a patient’s spirits and is a kind gesture.

Then, Pratt’s friend, actor and filmmaker James Gunn, jumped in to defend Pratt with a series of tweets offering his take on the issue:

In any discussion of whether or not to offer “thoughts and prayers” to someone going through health challenges, the first and most important thing we all have to accept is that not everyone feels the same way about prayer. Some people appreciate or depend on prayer. Perhaps they pray as part of their own spiritual or religious practice and feel uplifted when others say they are praying for them. That’s OK. For these people, prayer is part of the support they want and need during difficult times, and their friends and loved ones should feel free to offer their prayers without worrying that they are doing the “wrong thing.”

However, some people do not appreciate receiving prayers for their health. And that’s OK, too. Sometimes it seems as though healthy people believe thoughts and prayers are an appropriate and welcome gesture anytime someone is dealing with a health issue — however, to the sick person, there may be more nuance, and you can help them feel supported by understanding when and why prayers may or may not be welcome.

Here are three things to keep in mind:

1. Prayers may be more welcome in response to some health conditions than others.

“Praying for a your recovery” may be an appreciated sentiment when someone has an acute illness or injury — for example, a heart attack or broken bone. But it may be less appreciated when the condition is chronic, doesn’t have a cure or when “prayers” implies that the person can’t possibly be happy with their physical condition and needs to be “fixed” (for example, if they have a disability like cerebral palsy). In those situations, saying, “I’m praying for you!” can make your friend feel like you’re not paying attention to the fact that they aren’t going to “recover” or you don’t understand how they could possibly be completely happy with their disability. These insinuations can be hurtful or offensive.

2. There is usually a specific, tangible way you can help someone in addition to (or instead of) praying for them.

Pratt’s case is unique because he admitted he doesn’t know Smith well. He’s probably not in a position to pop over with a casserole, making thoughts and prayers a more understandable show of support. But most of us have personal relationships with our loved ones going through health challenges and could offer to help them with a specific task, too. Gunn gave the example of donating to hurricane relief efforts rather than just saying “thoughts and prayers.” In a health crisis, perhaps you could offer to do their grocery shopping or hang out with them at their home.

3. We need to support people with health challenges how they want to be supported — not necessarily how we think they should be supported.

Yes, helping someone with health challenges can make the helper feel good about themselves, and that’s a great side effect. But ultimately, we need to keep the focus on the person with health challenges. How do they want to be supported? The goal isn’t to provide the help you think they need, or the help you would want if you were sick, or the help you enjoy providing the most. The goal is to help them in a way that makes them feel loved. (Though if you’re on the receiving end of unwanted prayers, it never hurts to respond graciously, rather than angrily).

If you want to support a sick loved one, recognize that they might love getting your prayers, or they might not. Communicating how much you love them, asking how you can support them, and taking initiative to help them in a way that is meaningful to them is key.

Lead photo of Pratt courtesy of Facebook

Originally published: February 28, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home