Don't ask for a Lighter Load, Pray for a Stronger Shoulder

PlatitudeDumb platitude week starts off with this gem that’s been making the rounds on Facebook of late.

Don’t ask for a lighter load, pray for a stronger shoulder.

First let’s examine the meaning of the platitude and then I’ll move on to why I think it is unhealthy and destructive. Basically, it is saying that life is difficult and rather than proactively trying to make it easier, simply accept the burden.

A charitable interpretation might be that it is encouraging people to struggle past obstacles rather than give up. This is a reasonable platitude but I don’t see that as being the meaning here. To me, this is something that the sadistic boss would say to the meek employee.

The reason I think it is destructive has everything to do with Libertarian ideals. It’s might seem backwards as individual freedom and achievement is one of the main themes of Ayn Rand and the Libertarianism as a whole, but there is nothing in the philosophy that tells a person not to ask for help when it is required.

If we look at this statement in a more objective fashion let’s examine the results.You are given a heavy load to carry. It is too heavy, you aren’t going to make it. Rather than simply ask a friend to help with the load or ask for a lighter assignment you simply struggle through and eventually collapse or injure yourself. Not good.

When I worked at the golf course years ago one of my friends was the assistant pro. At a golf course you work long hours and weekends over the summer and thus miss most of the summer holidays. My friend’s family had a lake house and he complained to me that he never got to go because he was always assigned to work. I simply advised him to ask for Independence Day off but offer to work another day in return. Can you guess what happened? Of course, he got the weekend off and had a great time with his family.

Even more destructive is the idea that prayer can lighten a load. The load is going to weigh the same no matter what (unless we take it to the moon or some other body where gravity is increased or diminished). This, by the way, is a good experiment for those who believe in the power of prayer. Pray all you want the chair on which you sit will turn to gold. Not going to happen. Prayer, like a placebo, can be effective but only when the person praying or being prayed for believes it. The chair doesn’t think and therefore isn’t going to change to gold. It is important to understand this, no matter how many million people pray for that chair to turn to gold – it never will. Never.

If we don’t ask for the things we want then no one is going to give them to us. This is a central theme of Libertarianism. We can’t expect people to give us things and if we work hard and don’t ask for a prize we aren’t going to get it.

So, for this platitude I would substitute: When the load is too heavy, lighten it.

Or: God helps those who help themselves. I strongly urge you to follow this link to learn about that platitude. You will be surprised.

As always, Like, Tweet, Stumble, Pinterest or otherwise share and if you disagree feel free to Comment!

Speaking of which, my mother sent me an email in partial disagreement over a recent post. Hey, mom! I’m trying to drum up publicity for my books, don’t send me a private email, comment! Let’s get some controversy started.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

11 thoughts on “Don't ask for a Lighter Load, Pray for a Stronger Shoulder

  1. I feel that you’re taking this saying a bit too much on the literal side. Of course, there is always a limit, but that limit is almost never approached by us. It’s healthy to keep pushing, because the more you push, the more you learn, and the stronger you become. In the end you’ll come out a stronger person than you would be if you simply refused to face your challenges.

    • Thank you for the comment, Steve. I do get accused of being too literal every once in a while (all the time)! 🙂 I agree completely with the idea of working hard through difficulties and how this makes you stronger. I see this platitude as praying for help rather than asking for help or working through the issue in a realistic way. An interesting concept here is that you use something called a Straw Man fallacy to refute my blog:

      “… if you simply refused to face your challenges.”

      A straw man is arguing against a concept that was never presented in the first place.

      I totally agree with your proposal that we must face our challenges, I just think that it’s important to face them realistically by asking for help or taking a break when necessary. Praying for help is, for me, unrealistic and potentially dangerous.

      In any case, thank you for the comment! Please come back and disagree with me any time.

  2. “Even more destructive is the idea that prayer can lighten a load. The load is going to weigh the same no matter what (unless we take it to the moon or some other body where gravity is increased or diminished).”

    You speak about straw men . . . the above statement sounds like one to me. The “platitude” does not imply that prayer lightens the load – it implies that prayer strengthens the shoulder.

    “This, by the way, is a good experiment for those who believe in the power of prayer. Pray all you want the chair on which you sit will turn to gold.”

    This statement about prayer suggest that there is a gap in understanding on how prayer works. (If you are actually interested in learning about prayer, this could be accomplished by working through the Bible to understand prayer and how it results in true manifestations of power.) No, God may not change a chair into gold, but that does not mean that “frivolous unanswered prayers” disprove the true (non-placebo) power of prayer (or better stated, the existence of God who can answer prayers). Like the laws that govern the physical world (gravity determining the weight we feel when carrying a load) there are laws that govern the spiritual world. If we ignore the laws of the spiritual world regarding prayer, we are going to end up assuming that prayer is useless. It is no different than building an aircraft while ignoring the fundamental principles of physics. A subsequent crash might lead us to believe that flying an aircraft is impossible, when application of proper physics actually makes it entirely possible.

    So your position is that prayer merely has a placebo effect . . . aside from chairs not turning to gold, how do you know that? Have you witnessed the prayers of every Christian around the world and satisfied yourself that inanimate objects do not defy all laws of nature and obey their God when they pray within His will? (Again, this requires some knowledge of the laws that govern prayer.) If someone tells you that they can bring about a result by praying and their prayer fails (the result is not achieved) does that automatically mean that there is no other person in the world who has experienced a truly miraculous answer to prayer? Also, must we witness things first hand before we believe them? If so, a lot of what we believe would have to be thrown out the window. There are countless corroborated stories out there of prayers being miraculously answered.

    Considering the way you write on this subject I wonder whether you will even bother taking me seriously. (I am, for the record, not simply someone who was spoon-fed Christianity as a child and have been unable to “think a thought of my own” ever since. I am also a scientist by trade with plenty of training in objective evidence gathering.) You, however, can never explain away the power I have witnessed in my own life and the lives of other Christians around me. Power in response to prayer has changed situations that could not simply be changed by the act of believing in prayer. (Prayer has not just “encouraged me personally” to press on harder – it has actually brought about manifestations in the physical world that are otherwise unexplainable.) This same power has also affected people who do not believe in such a way so as to bring about impossible things. Prayer does not work for me because I believe that prayer works – prayer works because there is an Almighty God Who has the power to answer my prayers. It is not the act of me praying, but the ability of the Hearer of my prayers that strengthens my shoulders.

    • Thank you for the comment, Rane.

      I always welcome dissent.

      You argue that god doesn’t change the chair to gold because he doesn’t answer frivolous prayers. When five and six year old children in Sandy Hook were praying not to be killed, that is surely not a frivolous prayer.

      I think you are arguing that god sifts through the prayers and determine which ones are frivolous and which are not. Which child praying to live another day does, and which does not. There are certainly many cases where people pray and it is not answered. You argue that there are cases, witnessed first hand, where prayer was answered. Therefore god is clearly capable of doing so. He chooses not to do so many times.

      The placebo effect is not to be dismissed. It is extremely powerful and I don’t doubt for a moment that people who think god is helping them can attain things they would otherwise not achieve. I’m of the opinion that it was within them all the time. They did it. Through their effort. That’s an empowering position. I argue that it is you that strengthens your shoulders, not god. Everything you do is done by you.

      Another problem I have with prayer is why it works at all. My understanding of god is that he is infallible. If so, then he cannot allow prayer to change the original plan. Therefore prayer must be useless. Or, the original plan was in line with that for which was being prayed, and therefore prayer is again, useless.

      I agree that my argument about lightening the load was a Straw Person position, thank you for pointing it out.

      I take all comments seriously and I’m sorry to read that you wonder if I would. It means I haven’t clearly explained who I am.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment,


  3. Hi Tom,

    Ironic . . . I am so used to being stereotyped and having my perspective written off as soon as I bring up God, Christianity, or the Bible, that I did exactly the same to you . . . I made the assumption that you are the same as those who have stereotyped me in the past. My apologies!

    Straw man – I implied that asking God to turn a chair into gold was a frivolous prayer . . . I certainly would not call the prayers of 5 and 6 year old children in Sandy Hook frivolous prayers! I do not deny that there are heartfelt and weighty prayers which sometimes seem as if they have gone unanswered. I have a question though. If a child calls out to God, asking to be saved from a violent situation, and God chooses to take that child home to be with Him in heaven where he/she will never again encounter even a scraped knee, let alone another violent encounter, might that not be considered a perfect answer to his or her prayer? (If God, and the way He chooses to answer prayer, are on trial, then we have to at least consider the possibility that heaven exists as well.) Is it fair to make the connection that if seemingly good prayers do not get the desired response that they actually have gone unanswered? Are there ever appropriate reasons why God may not answer a prayer in the way the person praying desires? Again, one needs to understand God and prayer before being able to answer some of the questions you have posed, which comes from studying God and prayer. (There are people, much more intelligent than I, who have spent years and written volumes on these subjects . . . even many people who were originally determined to disprove the existence of God and ended up proving to themselves exactly the opposite. I will admit right now that I am unable to do the subject even the slightest bit of justice in a forum and time-frame such as this. I would still, however, like to consider a few aspects of your statements / questions a bit further.)

    I used to hate some of the things my parents made me do and could not for the life of me understand the reasons they prohibiting me from doing certain things. Now I find myself, as a parent, making some of those same decisions regarding my own children. This, to me, illustrates the importance of perspective. If I decide that God has made some bad decisions, then I am also saying that I know as well as God what decisions SHOULD be made. I am equating my knowledge with His, just as I thought I knew as a child what decisions my parents SHOULD be making instead of the ones they WERE making. Just because I don’t understand why God answers a particular prayer with a “no” instead of the “yes” I want does not automatically mean that the prayer was poorly answered, or that there must be no God capable of answering the prayer. It may mean that I do not have the full perspective on the situation.

    I cannot say that I have experienced the same depth of pain and heartache as many people have (e.g. the loss of a loved one to violence, war, starvation), but I have experienced some small degree of suffering as well. Why did God allow my house to catch fire, so that I literally escaped it in the dead of a Canadian winter with nothing but my husband, my newborn, and my toddler? Why didn’t God protect us from that? I couldn’t tell you then, but I can honestly say I am grateful for what has become of that painful situation. A mere year later, why did God allow my baby to be born 14 weeks early, weighing less than 2 pounds? I prayed for weeks that God would allow my body to sustain the pregnancy long enough for my baby’s little lungs to develop just a bit more, and I got a “no” to those pleading prayers. At the time I had a difficult time accepting that answer, but again, I can say with absolute honesty that if I had to go through it all again I wouldn’t change a thing (and please believe me – it was NOT a pleasant situation). In my experience, the amazing thing about God’s answers to prayer is that He can take something that seems so very wrong and turn it into such a blessing.

    Another question I have – why does God’s infallibility necessitate the futility of prayer? Infallibility, in a context of faith, generally means inability to err. Can there be two different variations of a scenario, one that occurs when a person prays and one that occurs in the absence of prayer, neither of which are erroneous? Does the correctness of one version brought about by prayer automatically make the other version void of prayer incorrect? If God does exist, if He desperately loves us, if the way to salvation and eternal life in heaven depend on us being in a relationship with Him, and if one way of developing that relationship is by working WITH us, rather than always simply IN SPITE OF us, then having prayer authentically affect situations makes sense to me, and I don’t believe the effect of prayer on a situation automatically requires the fallibility of God.

    You say that it is I who strengthens my shoulders, not God. There are cases of answered prayer where one could argue that it was simply the tenacity of the person praying that resulted in a better-than-expected outcome – their hope in prayer made them stronger. I do not, however, understand how this applies to prayers that are directed to a situation outside the control of the people praying. I, by being tenacious and believing in the power of prayer, cannot physically produce the ability to breathe (without life support) in a baby born 14 weeks early. Hope is powerful, but I’ve never known hope in one person to produce effects in another person who is completely oblivious to the hope being held on his or her behalf. Placebo effect may go so far, but it doesn’t explain everything.

    I realized something while pondering your questions. I would only expect people who have suffered, and because of the suffering have realized more fully that there is a loving and powerful God walking alongside them, who would stand behind the statement with which you have taken issue. Brother Yun (“The Heavenly Man”), Corrie ten Boom, Richard Wurmbrand, the New Testament apostles . . . they would agree with the statement. I can certainly understand why those who do not believe that there is actual power accessed by prayer would conclude it is a dumb platitude. I do encourage you, however, not to assume that it is a dangerous belief to hold until you have looked into the lives of people who have truly suffered and still believe it with all their hearts . . . no, who actually believe it BECAUSE of the suffering they’ve endured. Perhaps you have already done so and have found the evidence wanting. If you haven’t, you might find it an interesting exercise.

    I hope I have managed to present my viewpoint respectfully, and understandably. I’m not interested in being cantankerous! And I do appreciate the fact that you take all comments seriously.


    • Thank you for the reply, Rane.

      Speaking of Straw Person, I did not suggest you would think Sandy Hook children prayer’s were frivolous but just the opposite. Yes, praying for a chair to turn to gold is frivolous. My point was that you believe god gets to make that decision, between a frivolous prayer for a golden chair and the prayers of a child to live. Let’s say Tim Tebow prays earnestly to win a football game to champion christendom. Let’s say a five-year old boy prays earnestly to win a kickball game, let’s say a mother prays earnestly that her premature baby will survive.

      You argue that god answers all of those prayers (not answering being the answer no) including letting the baby die for apparently two reasons. One to bring the baby to heaven and secondly to make the mother suffer pain so she can be a better person and understand the love of god more. Basically you argue that no matter the outcome, prayer works. That god works in strange ways beyond our understanding. I can’t argue with logic like that it. It’s saying 1+1 equals anything I want it to equal.

      You completely misunderstand my infallibility remark. It is not in question to the person praying, it’s in question to god’s plan. If god has an infallible plan that cannot change, where to does that leave prayer? If prayer works, then the original plan must have been flawed. If the original plan is perfect then god already knew who was going to pray and how much and made the plan with that in mind, thus invalidating the whole point of prayer. It leads us into the concept free will. If god’s plan is perfect, and god knows everything that is going to happen, then everything is predetermined. No free will. If prayer works, if god changes his mind, if god changes events, then he made mistakes in the original plan. The two are mutually exclusive. Generally religious people argue that there is free will, that we choose what to do, it’s just that god knows what decision we will make. That’s not free will, it’s leading a predetermined life.

      Another argument you make is that suffering makes us who we are. This is, in my opinion, the main reason people have the delusion about god. Life is filled with suffering, some less, some horribly, awfully, terribly more. Some little girls in the Congo are raped to death at the age of five. We try to find meaning in that, a reason it happened. We see dragons in cloud shapes. Our minds look for reasons, make connections. My car is hit on the same night I spoke cruelly to a friend. I draw the conclusion that I’m being punished. Why did your child live when another premature child died? There must be reason! I argue there is no reason, there is no god, life is what we make it, no more, no less. There is no master plan. A master plan invalidates everyone, we are zombies shuffling along the line that was planned for us. Filled with the illusion of free will when in reality it is all ordained. Every decision I make is set in stone. I think I’m making a decision but I’m not, it was god’s plan. To me that is horror, to you that is the glory of god.

      Because my life is my own to lead
      Because my destiny is my own to forge
      No one else can guide my hand
      No one else can govern my mind

      Not you, Rane. Not my mother. Not my father. Certainly not god.

      Thank you for the comments,


  4. PS – I forgot one last thing. When considering a quote, it is often best to consider its origins. As best as I can tell, it has Jewish roots, and in publishing is also often attributed to a Christian clergyman. Christians who know their Bible also know that they are to expect suffering in this life. Our hope is not in making an easy as possible life for ourselves here on earth. Our hope is in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Prayer is not simply intended to be a tool for our immediate benefit . . . (praying that we will get more time off in summer to go to the cottage – in this instance asking one’s boss for time off makes much more sense) . . . prayer has more to do with being able to bear the suffering that we know to expect in this world because of the hope we have once this life is over. (This is one of the reasons that the golden chair prayer has little weight if one legitimately investigates the doctrine of prayer.) The worldview from which a platitude springs cannot always be separated from the beliefs of the worldview, so in order to determine whether it is true or not one needs to examine the worldview, not the platitude. Interestingly enough, I was looking up the quote to see its origins because I read it in an autobiography this week. That’s how I stumbled across your critique of it. The subject of the autobiography I read, assuming his story is written accurately (and I have no reason to suspect otherwise), exemplifies the spirit of the quote. Just in case you’re interested . . .

  5. “No one else can govern my mind – Not you, Rane . . . ”
    I know. It is not my job or intention to change your mind. I only mean to indicate that the simple arguments used routinely as evidence against the existence of God are not quite so simple. I do not believe in God just because it is a way to try and explain what I see around me or because it somehow soothes me to believe. I believe in the God of the Bible because of a myriad of evidences . . . historical (secular 1st century writings about the life and death of Jesus, among many others), philosophical, and experiential. It would take me months to write out all the evidences that have brought me to my belief, but they are not purely theoretical or philosophical (many of them are, interestingly enough, scientific, but that’s a whole different can of worms).

    So I wonder . . . why do you encourage dissention? When you say “no one can govern my mind” . . . does that mean your mind is unchangeable unless the shift in ideology comes from within your own mind, rather than through oppositional ideas of others? If so, why encourage dissention? (If that is not what you mean, then this paragraph is moot . . . I’m not interested in building any more straw men, although it is sometimes very easy to do without even realizing it.) If one is unwilling to allow anything external to govern / change one’s mind, then the only reason I see for welcoming dissention is the chance to rebut and challenge the beliefs of the dissenters. If that is the case, are you attempting to change, or govern, the minds of those you are arguing against? Do you hope to convince me of the futility or ill logic of my beliefs? If not, why bother with this banter? (Please do not read these questions as accusations . . . I dislike the fact that writing does not convey facial expression, vocal inflection, and body language – these questions all stem from true curiosity, not accusation or defensiveness.)

    I am also curious – if you personally know that there is no God, what do you believe about things like little girls in the Congo being raped to death? Is that bad? If so, why? Who decided it was bad? I believe rape and murder are EVIL and horrific, and my worldview has an explanation for the concept of evil. A gap in the godless explanation of the universe is that there I have found no convincing evidence as to why we should view anything as bad or good. Everything simply is. That also means my beliefs in God and prayer are not good or bad, nor is the platitude good or bad (or dangerous) . . . they just are. You may choose to agree or disagree with the premise of the platitude, but why is your view any more valid than that of anyone else in the absence of an objective measure of good or bad?

    I certainly don’t have all the answers. All I know is that I have to process the world around me, and nothing I have read or seen or heard has put all the pieces together like the Bible has. Again, there are much more intelligent people than I who have required years of study and volumes of writings to tease out the intricacies of topics such as this . . . it’s not something that can be “sorted out” in a few afternoons on a blog site. If you really do welcome dissention, it might be interesting (or at least entertaining) to explore the works of those who have vehemently argued against belief in God or the Bible, but now proclaim Christ as Lord. Are the arguments that changed their minds flawed? C. S. Lewis, Sir William M. Ramsay, Malcolm Muggeridge, Lee Strobel, Simon Greenleaf . . . there are many, many more. Again, perhaps you have already done this and have found it all to be nonsense. But if you have not, and you enjoy working through dissention, there is plenty out there.

    I sincerely hope the life you lead and the destiny you forge lives up to your expectations. The life I have given over to God to lead (as illogical a statement as that may seem to you) continually exceeds mine.


  6. One last musing, and then I’ll leave you in peace. As I read through your rebuttal statements, I see a very exaggerated caricature of God. You have pulled out two or three particular prominent traits and made some very basic, skeleton premises. (Most of us do it, even those of us who believe in God and spend time studying Him.) Caricatures are distortions, and that is what I see in your objections. I may be incorrect, but to me it sounds like your objections do not come from direct study of God (or from your viewpoint, the source material that is considered by Christians to be the revelation of God), but rather from studying objections to what you’ve heard about God from less direct sources. You pick a characteristic of God, look at the world, and decide they are incompatible, when there could easily be several other variables that may make them completely compatible. (This is seen in science all the time – basic mechanisms fail to explain a phenomenon with a particular set of understanding, until a small detail is added that makes the mechanism explain the phenomenon perfectly.) If one has never gone to the source information on God then one runs the risk of missing key information that can make one’s premises obsolete. One runs the risk of incorporating incorrect assumptions into one’s beliefs. It’s like studying an x-ray that someone else took of a patient, and concluding that the patient is only what is seen in the x-ray. In medicine we’re taught to never rely on the lab findings, but to always look at the clinical picture as well. Lab findings can aid in determining the diagnosis, and can help give a synopsis once we’ve developed the full diagnosis using all sorts of methods, but making diagnoses on the basis of lab results without actually speaking to and examining patients can end in disaster. The same goes for God.

    Read the New Testament sometime, if you never have (OT too, for that matter, but usually it’s easier to start with the NT if you’re not familiar with the Bible). You’ve got nothing to lose . . . if it is merely a mythical book and your premises of God still stand, then you can be that much more confident in your position. Before you do, however, ask yourself if you’re willing to approach it objectively. If we have determined to explain away any data that do not support our original hypothesis, our quest for knowledge is futile. I was surprised at what I all learned about God when I decided to set aside what I’d been taught and start at the source.

    All the best,

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