Photo by diamondmountain

Photo by diamondmountain


We had another round of layoffs at my small Christian workplace this past week. Everyone was gobsmacked, feeling the sadness and stress of more jobs being vacated and our friends having to leave so suddenly.

Even though I’m an outspoken atheist, I like the people I work for and do well at my job. I don’t want to stay forever, but I’m so happy to still have a place here–no matter how much I disagree with the central mission of the company. It’s my job and I appreciate it.

After every instance of mass layoffs the entire company meets for a word from the CEO and a time of extended prayer. I usually try to make a discreet exit to the loo in order to avoid uncomfortable–even hypocritical–situations. I certainly don’t want to pray, and I even moreso don’t want to be a liar or a fake any more than I already may be as a closeted unbeliever.

This time I couldn’t avoid it. I was stuck.

Usually during public prayer I just sit quietly, not even bowing my head, but always being respectful. This time each person was told to pray aloud for the coworker sitting to his or her right. My boss sat on mine. I had to scramble for a workable solution. I’ve never been put on the spot like this when I didn’t feel comfortable saying “no thanks.” This was for someone specific–right beside that person. I decided to take part, but I also refused to pray to an imaginary being.

How did this work? I listened to his request and then I phrased my prayer in such a way as to not be a prayer to God, but a hope and a wishful thought for my boss and the troubles our company was facing. So instead of “God, I want to lift up ____” it was more like “With all of this stress and extra work, I hope we all will find peace and clarity so we can do our very best…”

One benefit of the faux prayer was forcing me to be creative and not fall into the typical clichés like:

“Please give us thisthisthisandthis–but your will be done”
Lord/Jesus/God (every other word, just in case he forgot you were addressing him)
Bonus points for using “just” and/or “really” in every sentence.
Quoting the Bible back to God, telling him what he used to do and what he said.

As far as I know, my audience would only have noticed my lack of trite phrasing, but it was at least genuinely stated. I made it through without outing myself, offending anyone, or faking.

What would you have done in my situation? And as a bonus, what are your favorite prayer clichés?

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12 thoughts on “Trapped in a Public Prayer”

setv · May 24, 2009 at 4:50 pm

good blog, but, who do you pray to?

    godlessgirl · May 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Nobody, since I don't pray nor believe in a higher power. I simply voiced my wishes and hopes for that person. That doesn't require prayer.

James Tracy · May 24, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Sounds like you did the best you could given the circumstances. I hope your boss appreciated the thoughtful wishes.

    godlessgirl · May 25, 2009 at 12:54 am

    If it takes a prayer for them to know how I care for their wellbeing, then I'm shit outta luck. Thanks James 🙂

hubbit · May 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm

“To Whom It May Concern:”….no? 😀

Prayer is a funny thing. On the one hand, those who pray believe in a power higher than themselves, to whom they can address their concerns and requests. On the other hand, they are being presumptuous, if not downright arrogant, by asking for what their omniscient target is believe to know that they need, and by reminding him of what he is recorded as having said aeons ago.

And yet, it is a widespread cultural phenomenon. There are times when I wonder what the original “ancestor religion” was, where we got the idea in the first place and how/why it got handed down through the generations.

In the meantime, it sounds very much as though you did the best you could under the circumstances. It’s hard to think creatively when put on the spot, especially in situations where one wants to be a quiet non-participant.

    godlessgirl · May 25, 2009 at 12:55 am

    You reminded me of something I recently read–that it would be extremely unjust if God responded to the intercessory prayers of one friend for another. What about the lonely hermit with no friends to pray for him? Is he up a creek? 🙂

@rickbert · May 24, 2009 at 8:34 pm

GG – good for you for rolling with the situation. Very uncomfortable and unfair of them to put everyone on the spot like that. I find it offensive (and simultaneously hilarious) that there are still GROWN ADULTS that talk to imaginary friends. And that they expect her/him/it to care/answer. It's a step removed from cavemen, IMO. Worshiping the sun makes more sense – at least it's real and we derive tangible benefits from its existence 🙂

I don't know what I would have done, but it would probably be somewhere in between what you did and just bursting out laughing?

Deb · October 14, 2010 at 8:19 am

It’s not at all unfair to ‘put everyone on the spot like that’ — in a Christian workplace, and I assume it’s a non-profit, prayer is expected as a condition of employment. There are very specific clauses in employment law which allow for this sort of behavior, which in any secular business would be actionable.

Also, I feel your pain, sistah. I too am an atheist working in a Christian org. However, I am there as a contractor, so while I am allowed and encouraged to participate in such activities as devotionals and chapel and mandatory prayer in meetings, I can quietly avoid active participation. I don’t make an issue of my atheism — I definitely like being employed — but I do my very best not to cave and participate either.

In my case no one directly asks me to pray, so I have not come up against this issue. Kudos to you for handling it graciously.

wildmonky · January 10, 2011 at 11:18 pm

I woulda handled it similarly.Really what prayer is is just hope and well wishes. The intent of yours was the same as their’s, you just don’t attach magic to it 🙂

Jonno · January 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Prayer is just basically Cosmic Ordering “ask and you will receive.” Funnily enough, the religious hate the idea of such ‘selfish’ New Age ideas but package it in the One True Faith 🙂 and it’s suddenly okay. You equipped yourself admirably and I would have more than likely done something similar, said a bunch of words but without putting in any ‘god-intent’ behind them.

Childfree Secular Humanist · June 1, 2012 at 3:58 am

I couldn’t work for a Christian company/workplace. I’d rather be unemployed.

Dear Godless Girl: Saying Grace? | Godless Girl · April 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm

[…] I’m at work (a Christian company) and I am expected to pray aloud, I have chosen not to abstain, but to say my secular wishes and hopes for those around me and the […]

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