"... in our/your prayers": is this ever meant literally?

It’s common for people to say (or post, FTM) to people who are suffering or who have suffered some terrible tragedy that they are in their prayers, or they are praying for them or the like. Sometimes people ask other people to keep them in their prayers. What I’m wondering is if this is always intended as a complete figure of speech, meaning nothing more than “feel some sympathy” at the most (or being itself just an expression of sympathy, with no commitment to think of the subject ever again) or if some people do literally pray for these people.

I’d say that it for some people it’s just a figure of speech meaning something along the lines of “I’m sorry to hear about what happened to you, and I hope things get better”, and for some other people it literally means “I will remember you by name during my daily prayers each and every day until the situation is resolved”.

On this board, where the number of overtly religious people is relatively small, I expect anyone who uses the phrase “in my prayers” is actually a believer on some deity and will at the least say a quick silent prayer for the person in question, otherwise they would have simply said “I’ll keep you in my thoughts” or words to that effect.

I’ve assumed with most of the people I know who use this phrasing, it is literal. Back when I used to be a practicing Catholic, if I told someone they were in my prayers, that literally meant that I would say a prayer for them/mention them in a prayer. I currently use the phrase “Keeping you in my thoughts”, or something to that effect, as I’m no longer religious and I take the “prayers” phrase literally.

In my circle of people, it is meant literally.

I did a quick Google search on frequency of prayer and see several results saying that 40-50% of Americans pray on a daily basis. I’m assuming that all of those people will mean it literally. Many of the non-praying will find a different way to phrase it, which just increases the likelihood that someone saying “I’ll pray for you” means it.

Back when I was a kid and had church and youth group and prayer group and all that good stuff, most of that stuff had an “intentions” part. So like during Mass, the lector would have a list and get up and go “For Joe Smith, who is in the hospital” or something like that and everyone would go “Lord, hear our prayer.”

So there’s that. Not that everyone who says you’ll be in their prayers does that. I know some people who have daily prayers also add intentions- sometimes when saying Grace before meals or prayers before bed. You know- the whole “God bless mommy and Uncle Eugene and please send me a pony for Christmas” deal.

I have had a few people in my life tell me they mentioned me at their church group, so I know some people actually follow through with that. And I mentioned other people I knew were having a rough time when I was a kid. Some people, of course, just mean they’re thinking of you when they say that, though. And some just want something to say.

Whenever a family member of mine is ill, my Orthodox friend asks for their Hebrew name, so that he can include them in his prayers.

It is mostly literal where I am from (rural Louisiana). Most people go to church multiple times a week and almost all of the churches maintain a list of people going through bad circumstances that need prayers. Those are often included in the services themselves. My Episcopal church here in Massachusetts maintains such a list as well and reads it aloud every week as part of the service so I assume it is common all over.

My Facebook feed frequently gets such requests as well and I am confident that most of the people replying to the requests take it very literally. However, I sometimes use it in the figurative sense myself. I hardly ever fold my hands into a prayer position and recite an actual prayer unless it is part of an actual church service and I don’t attend those very often anymore.

I assume it is literal whenever I see it. Which is why I never say it even though it would do no harm to do so.

I’ve done novenas for a few people. Now that’s commitment.

I spend time on a more conservative, religious board, where people make prayer requests all the time. The responders all seem to mean it literally – they will talk about how they will be attending church, mass, or a prayer group and specifically include the person making the request. Some of them will even post the prayer for the person right on the board.

Although I am a theist, I don’t believe in intercessory prayer, so I would never say that I would pray for someone. I would just offer my sympathies or say that they were in my thoughts.

If I have no intention of actually praying for someone, I’ll say “I’ll be thinking of you”. But if I say “I’ll keep you in my prayers”, that’s exactly what I do mean. When someone I care about is sick or in trouble, I go to the church (I’m Catholic), light a candle and pray. Supposedly, while your candle burns, every prayer said in the church also benefits the object of your prayers. Whether or not that’s true, it is a comforting ritual, and at least to me, a meaningful one. Many churches have replaced actual vigil candles with electric ones due to fire risk. I’m old school, however, and prefer the candles.

I was never taught to pray for some specific action to happen. I was taught to pray that whomever I came to pray for would find strength and support to get through whatever they were facing.

I can’t speak for others but I mean it literally. Prayer is a regular part of my life and daily habit and including intentions like that (as I call them) is nothing odd for me. Sometimes I’ll even go the distance and add them into our intentions at church; have their name (or even SDMB handle) and need mentioned at that part of worship. Maybe its meaningless but ------- maybe not. Someday I’ll find out for sure.

I can’t imagine saying it and not meaning it.

Even my humanistic Unitarian Church “keeps people in their thoughts.” And seriously, we do.

Yeah same here. Although when I do say it/type it (rarely), I basically stop what I’m doing and say a prayer for the person. Because I’m more of a “running dialog with God” type person than a “daily prayer” one.

After I told him that my mother was dying of cancer, my devoutly Catholic friend arranged for my mom to be prayed for at a special Mass, and we even received a very nice little booklet from the church that held the Mass to tell us that he had done it. I found it very touching that he went to that much trouble to show he cared about our tragedy.

I agree with those who say most people who say “You’re in our prayers” do mean it literally, even if it is just a short prayer. If you didn’t believe that prayers do any good, you’d probably just say something like “Sending good thoughts / positive vibes” or such.

Growing up (Mormon family), anyone my parents said that to would be explicitly included either in our dinner time or bed time family prayer. “…and please bless Sister Anderson, that she might overcome her <insert name of ailment or difficulty>.” Like that.

I don’t pray, and thus I don’t say people are in my prayers. I do say they are in my thoughts, and I mean it.

I remember when my father was going through some health problems, and I posted here…at least one poster specifically asked me his name so they could include something more than “D/a’s father” in their prayers.

I volunteer at a charity associated with a church, and they’ve told me they included him (my father, not the poster mentioned above) in their prayers as well. I believe them.

There is a convent of Clarisas I sometimes visit; one time I mentioned some worry a Doper or other was having, and we got to talking about the nature of friendship and how for them it’s actually pretty normal to be worrying about people they’ve never met. When they’re asked to include someone in their prayers, there will be one or two of them who receive the request but the whole convent does the praying; often, those prayers are not for the visitor who requested them, but for someone that visitor cares about.

They’ve included “Nava’s friends from the boards” ever since.

Yes, literally. Both in general and specifically. We have a prayer list at my church, for specific people and a list of people who pray during the week. I ask if people want to be included on the list. If not, I just pray myself.


It ranges from keep them in their heart, good will thoughts to hard core prayers. People tuned into prayers can sometimes feel when the other person is praying for them, I’ve felt it and confirmed it with the pray’er. It is a powerful thing, it works, I don’t care to prove it, and don’t need to.