How does an agnostic write an encouraging note to a religious relative?
March 26, 2010 7:10 AM   Subscribe

How does an agnostic write an encouraging note to a religious relative?

I have a relative in the hospital, and I would like to send an encouraging note to him and the family. I want to send a note that reads along the lines of “Thinking of you… Hope you feel better and get well soon… I’ll be praying for you and the family...”

I come from a protestant/Christian background. In short, I can’t feel sincere about religion in general and feel uncomfortable/dishonest paying lip service to it. This is not a topic that I go out of my way to avoid with extended family, but not something I feel compelled to bring up either.

I truly feel that the family wants/needs to hear something similar to the above, and but my attempts to remove the religious terms seem either deliberate or sappy. Encouraging notes in general are not my strong suit either, so all thoughts appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think you can replace "I'm praying for you" with "I love you" for the same effect.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:12 AM on March 26, 2010

Do you even need to include the praying reference? What's wrong with "Thinking of you... Hope you feel better and get well soon! All my love, "
posted by alcoth at 7:12 AM on March 26, 2010

"I'll keep you in my thoughts."
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:13 AM on March 26, 2010 [7 favorites]

Everything up to the "I'll be praying for you bit" sounds fine to me.

"I'm thinking of you often, and hope you get well soon."
posted by jquinby at 7:14 AM on March 26, 2010

You don't have to say that YOU'LL be praying. "May your faith comfort you in your time of need" is perfectly sincere.
posted by desjardins at 7:15 AM on March 26, 2010 [9 favorites]

"I'm sending positive thoughts your way."
posted by drlith at 7:17 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I am keeping you and the family my thoughts, with love and hope for your speedy recovery."
posted by bunnycup at 7:17 AM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

("in my thoughts")
posted by bunnycup at 7:18 AM on March 26, 2010

seconding "I'll keep you in my thoughts." Also, "I am concerned for you and hope for your full recovery" or something similar.

In this case (especially when writing to people who you do not know all that well), it's more important to write the forms with a certain amount of sincerity than to write something clever and meaningful (especially to you). You send the card, they know you care (at least enough to send a card), and that is what the tradition is for.

For someone you know better, personalize it -- that doesn't mean bringing religion in -- you can always say "I look forward to doing [activity] with you." Again, gets the point across.

Similarly, for a bereavement card, just say "My thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time." If you knew the deceased, a short remembrance is nice -- "Aunt Helen told me this proverb when I was 8 or 9, and I have always remembered it. She was very good to me." Don't burden the other person or yourself with more philosophy than you have to.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:20 AM on March 26, 2010

You say you're an agnostic, presumably that means you believe in a higher power? I am a fairly spiritual person, but my belief system is nowhere near traditional judeo/christian or even most organized religions but I still feel comfortable sending people messages about prayer or God if that's what they believe in. I have a belief in a force greater than me and figure that that force, whatever it is, will work out the details. The point is that I am hoping for the best for them and am trying to provide comfort in a way that's accessible to them.

However, if even that makes you uncomfortable, the suggestions above are completely reasonable. The important part is the comfort and if knowing that you're thinking of them and hope for the best is comforting than that's all you need to do.
posted by Kimberly at 7:27 AM on March 26, 2010

You can also express that you are sorry he is having to go though this, or that it happened to him. Just saying you feel for a person is often enough.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:32 AM on March 26, 2010

You say you're an agnostic, presumably that means you believe in a higher power? (Kimberly)

That's not what agnostic means. Agnosticism is the view that whether or not a higher power exists is unknown or unknowable. Some agnostics behave as though there were one, others are functionally atheist.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:33 AM on March 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

I totally agree with desjardins.

I'll echo what I said in another thread: when I, an agnostic who mostly believes in Jesus on a sort of Gandhi level (real person to emulate) was in the hospital, a plainclothes nun came to me before surgery to pray with me. She asked very politely if I would like her to do so, and I thought about it for a while before saying that if she would like to express her good wishes for me in a way that was meaningful to her, I would appreciate it. That way, we could both take comfort in the shared experience of caring for each other, while respecting each of our own beliefs. I did genuinely appreciate that she was putting whatever she could offer forth for me, and I also appreciated that she was putting her own beliefs aside to the point of making me comfortable.

There are certain people and situations where you don't have to believe in something for yourself to know that it works for other people. I know, 100%, that my great-grandma is exactly where she wanted to be, in heaven with her Lord and Savior. There's just something about the way she was that makes me sure of it, even though it's not the same kind of thing I believe.

Does that make sense?
posted by Madamina at 7:37 AM on March 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

Just dropping into say I agree with the responses here, and totally understand the way you're feeling, but also think you should know that if your family knows at all that you aren't of the same religious faith as they are, your cards and thoughts will mean all the more to them. I used to spend so much time feeling like nobody wanted to hear from me in times like this because I wasn't going to be talking about how I was praying for them. This really came across like I wasn't thinking/caring about them either, which couldn't be further from the truth.

What I'm saying is don't let your thoughtfulness about showing your concern mask your concern. Your sincere "thoughts" will mean much more than your insincere "prayers" as far as word-choice goes, and certainly much more than nothing at all.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:38 AM on March 26, 2010

"I'm praying for you" "I'm thinking of you, I hope you get better soon, I care about you," etc.

I don't pray, so I don't tell people I'll be praying because that would be lying. I care much more about not lying than I care about making people feel that I share their entire belief system. If other people want to look down on me for not praying but thinking and hoping and caring ... well, they're entitled to their opinion, but at least I know I've been honest with them.

By the same token, if you were Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist, they'd be entitled to look down on your distinctive expressions of your faith -- but you'd be entitled not to pretend to be Christian. People just can't expect everyone to adhere to their religious beliefs in this day and age.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:56 AM on March 26, 2010

Religious people say, "I'm praying for you" because praying is something religious people do when they are thinking of and empathizing with someone in a difficult situation. You can say, "I'm thinking of you" and it means roughly the same thing. You're sharing in the other family's sadness and wishing them well; praying for them would be sharing in their sadness by bringing their concerns to God as if they were your own and asking God to bless them. It's really quite similar and will likely feel the same (loving, supportive, caring) to the recipients.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:08 AM on March 26, 2010

"You're in my thoughts"
"Thinking of you"
"I know your faith will give you strength."

I'm the disbeliever son-in-law in a family full of very faithful Christians, including my wife. I have some experience with this. Speak from your heart. That's what actually matters.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2010

Talk about your own feelings and that of the people to whom you are close. E.g. I am thinking of you and your situation pretty constantly. We all know you are going to get through this, and we are rooting for you.

I am a believer myself but I almost never mention God or prayer when I write get well or condolence or similar cards. There's plenty to say about the person, the situation, and the other people you know without getting into issues of faith. (And I personally am not crazy about hearing people are praying for me, either. I think relationships with God are very hard if not impossible to share.)
posted by bearwife at 9:30 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Best Wishes"
posted by chrisamiller at 11:37 AM on March 26, 2010

I'm agnostic as well and I always tell people that I'll keep them in my thoughts. Also, if someone tells me they'll be praying for me (for illness or whatever) I don't mind thanking them. After all, it just means they're keeping me in their thoughts, and their prayers can't do any harm.

Very, very occasionally, I'll throw a thought out into the universe... I'm alone and I'll say out loud, "Please let (relative) get well soon," or something along those lines. I don't address it to anyone in particular and if nothing else, it's an expression of my wishes that makes me feel better.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:26 PM on March 26, 2010

Don't "comfort" someone in the hospital -- comfort their worried loved ones. To the patient, send "strength" or the like. As for prayer: "Aunt Wilma, everyone is praying for you and wishing you strength. I am thinking of you always, and hope that you will be home soon. ..." etc.
Some truthful hyperbole about a group.
posted by Bet Glenn at 5:03 PM on March 26, 2010

I'm an atheist and I usually put something like "I'll be keeping you in my thoughts and hope you get well soon." Religious people will just assume you mean praying for them.
posted by distracts at 12:58 AM on March 29, 2010

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