To Pray or Not to Pray, That is the Question

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The other day, I learned that a fellow author and friend of mine received the unexpected news that she has cancer and that death is imminent. To know, to plan, to seek help, and to fight are all things which humans are adept at handling. To be told, out of the blue, that there is nothing to be done except gather your family together is, to me, unimaginable. It would be a blow so detrimental to one’s emotional and physical being that I can’t grasp the enormity of what she could be feeling. For me, I believe that I would have to hand all of the fear, uncertainty, and anguish over to God. I would need Him to take on what I could not and to reach out His hand to lead me home.

My first instinct when hearing about someone who is sick or facing death, is to pray for them. While it’s not necessary to tell them that I’m praying for them, I’ve learned that many find it comforting to know that others are offering prayers for their healing or comfort. 

So, what do you do, how do you offer comfort, when the person does not believe in God? What words can be said other than the dreaded, “I’m sorry”?

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and I humbly believe… We must still pray, we must still offer condolences, and we must let others know that we are praying for them even if our prayers (in their minds) fall on deaf ears. 

In the same vein, I can’t help but wonder, if one passes who did not believe in God, and that person’s family does not believe, is there comfort there? Is there peace in knowing that life just ends?

Perhaps a better question would be, does it matter? Whether they believed or not, when their time comes, their life on earth will end. This is true of us all. No matter how rich or poor, haughty or humble, faithful or without faith, all of us will experience physical death. To those who believe there is nothing more, what is gained or lost by having someone pray for them? Perhaps they would find comfort not in the prayer but in knowing that you are thinking of them. And perhaps you will feel better knowing that you did what they could not.

I once heard that a friend’s father passed away, and I reached out to her. While knowing she does not believe in God, I told her that she and her family were in my prayers. I still remember her response, “You may be surprised to hear this, but knowing you are praying for us means a lot to me.”

I think that’s because, while prayer means something divine and reassuring to me, to those who do not pray, perhaps it offers the simple knowledge that someone cares, that someone is trying to comfort, and that someone is hoping to ease some of their pain.

It has become a modern response to say, “Prayer doesn’t do any good. Action is what is needed.” We often hear this after natural disasters and other large-scale catastrophes. Of course, action is needed, but that does not mean that we should not pray. Likewise, anybody who says, “I will pray for you” without offering help or assistance, is not helping at all.

St. Paul wrote to St. James,
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

So, back to my question, what do you do, how do you offer comfort, when the person does not believe in God? I think the answer is, as St. Paul advises, you exercise your faith through works. Be there for them. Offer them your support. Ask if you can help with any needs they may have. But also, pray for that person and for their family. Pray that the family finds comfort in each other. Pray that the person’s pain is endurable. Pray that the family finds peace. And pray for the repose of the person’s soul. As someone I love pointed out to me, you might be the only one praying for them at all.

2020 Gethsemane

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What I was writing about a year ago this week: ‘Til Death Do Us Part.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy,  Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.

Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy is available as a complete set for your Kindle and is also available on audio!

You may follow Amy on Facebook at, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at and at

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019).


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