A Loaded Statement and the Benefit of the Doubt

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” – Ephesians 6:19

While waiting in line at a store, the man standing next to me and I engaged in some conversation, perhaps to assuage our mutual boredom. It’s amazing what you can learn about a person in a short time. He confided many personal details of his life, and I in turn related to them with stories of my own.

When our wait in the line came to an end, I felt a strong connection to this total stranger. So in parting, I said, “I’ll pray for you.”

I’d like to tell you that he beamed with happiness at my kind words. But it was quite the opposite. He recoiled in horror, then tried to appear neutral, but ultimately rushed away from me.

As I left the store, I noted that the man wore a turban, which would mean that he was a follower of the Sikh religion. I realized that he might have interpreted my words as a call to conversion, or a condescending promise that I would pray for his soul. Sometimes when Christians say, “I’ll pray for you,” it’s a loaded statement. Should I have kept my mouth shut?

Just as I wondered this the man rushed up to me, as though he had been searching for me in the parking lot, and grabbed my arm. “Thank you,” he said, looking me in the eye. “Thank you for your prayers.”

I was struck by the awkwardness we both felt in the exchange.  But in the end, he gave me the benefit of the doubt. I was glad that I had spoken the words, and gladder still that he was open to receiving them. I pray for him this morning.


Loving God, I give thanks for the religions of the world, and the unique gifts each one brings to humanity.  

16177.jpg About the Author
Lillian Daniel is the Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Dubuque, Iowa, and the author of When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough.