A thought on Gossip disguised as Prayer.

MBA

I think we have all experienced, at one time or another, a person who uses the prayer request time during small group to openly gossip.  Or, you get stopped in the church lobby by someone who has an urgent prayer request for you… and you know that their intentions are less than honorable.  I think gossip disguised as prayer is something that becomes more obvious, especially as you mature in your faith.

However, I’ve noticed another form of gossip and it’s absolutely unintentional.  I recognized it, even spoke to the person about it, and yet at the same times I was bothered by how it happened in the first place.  Only recently was I able to put my finger on exactly what the underlying issue is.

It was many months ago, when I was sitting in a meeting.  A woman came into the meeting, she was clearly upset.  She asked those of us in the meeting if we could pray for her neighbor.   As she left her home to get to the meeting, she became aware of a serious situation unfolding.  Knowing the neighbor’s background, this dear woman knew that prayer was something that was needed.  We were happy to pray for her neighbor.

However, it was how it all unfolded that made me uncomfortable.  As she explained the prayer request, she also went into a long description of the woman’s history, past issues she had witnessed, her concerns for the woman, etc.  I was uncomfortable because I knew that I didn’t need all of this information in order to pray for this woman. God already knew her details.  I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if someone in this room knows the woman?  What if they recognize her in the details?  What if they got a call on their way in about this situation, and here is someone putting it all out on the table?”   I also questioned whether or not this woman had permission to share these details with complete strangers.

After the meeting, my heart weighed heavy.  I recognized that I was in a situation that was a well intentioned, sincere, prayer request.  At the same time, it had the familiarity of sitting and listening to gossip.  I knew that our colleague was NOT the gossiping type, there was no question of her integrity in this matter.  It was clear to me that she had no idea what she had just done was really inappropriate.

I spoke with her directly, and then I shared a memo to our team about prayer requests in the future.  I made sure that I hit all the major points, starting with making sure we have permission to share details and clarity on which details can be shared and which cannot.  I stated that if you didn’t have permission to share, prayer requests for that person should be done in name only and leave the details to the Lord.  I reminded our team that it is a small community, and you never know who may actually know the person you are speaking about.  It may not be our place to share the dirty laundry they are struggling with.  I even pointed out that giving out too much information was akin to gossip and we must be careful.

We’ve never had a situation since.  However, I’ve not been able to let the situation go.  I really wanted to understand HOW that happened in the first place.  How did she not realize she was giving too much information & teetering on the edge of gossip?  Why did she not even consider that someone in the room may know this person?  What kept her from taking into consideration that she should ask for permission to share the details?  And, truthfully why did she even feel it was necessary to give all of this information in the first place.  These questions stuck with me for quite some time.  Today, I figured it out.

I was speaking with a friend about the difference between men and women.  My husband once came home with a handful of cash.  His boss’ wife was in the hospital, they took up a collection and wanted to send flowers.  He handed me the cash and asked if I could handle it, he gave me her name and the hospital she was at.  I began to ask questions.  What was the procedure?  When was she admitted?  How long would she be there for?  My husband thought I was being nosy asking for so many details.  However, that wasn’t the case at all.  I needed to know the details to determine if I needed to spend extra on next day delivery while she was still in the hospital, or could put the money into a nicer arrangement that could be delivered a day or two later.  Was she in a room/ward where should could have flowers or would a balloon arrangement be more appropriate.

Details are important to women.   Details help us to see the bigger picture, and understand the full scope of the circumstances.  We see the details as important particularly in areas where we have more experience, so that we can respond appropriately.  When we pray, being able to pray in detail can make us feel more productive and involved than a general prayer.

Recently, a friend reached out for help.  A pretty terrible situation fell upon one of her family members.  She needed prayer and she really needed actually help of donations of funds or physical items.  In honesty, her first few sentences were more than enough.  Anyone with a heart would have felt bad for the family and would help anyway that could.  However, as she explained the need, she gave a LOT of backstory.  It was as if she was trying to justify her request for immediate prayer and immediate help.  His current situation was bad enough, but she felt by sharing more of his history we could see that it’s been one thing after another.  She felt this information either helped to justify her plea for help or would illicit more response from us due to the urgency and severity of the circumstance.

The more details we give, the more we can connect with people on a mental and emotional level.  The more details we have, the more real something is.  The more details we have, the more urgent a need is.  The more details we have, the more we can justify our actions or help others to justify responding to our need.  When we express details ahead of a prayer request, we are attempting to get an emotional reaction to the request.  It is a way of indicating that this prayer is necessary, urgent, and needs to be taken seriously.  It can also be our way of justifying the request, especially if we are going interrupt something else happening to make the request.

As I think about my colleague, I realized this was the case for her.  From her perspective, it was highly unlikely that we would know this woman.  She wanted to interrupt our meeting to pray for her neighbor, and therefore felt as if she had to justify that interruption.  Her heart was so broken for this woman, that she wanted to make sure we understood the urgency and severity of her request.  She was using the details so that we would view the request with the same importance she did.

This heartfelt desire for compassion and urgency in praying is why my colleague was incapable of thinking rationally about how she was going about her petition for prayer.  It was her concern for this woman that kept her from seeing with clarity that she might be gossiping. Her intentions were noble and wonderful.  When I spoke with her about my perspective, and how uncomfortable it made me… she was apologetic.  In hindsight she could see what she didn’t see in the moment.

So, I ask this of you.  Before you accuse someone of gossip disguised in prayer, consider what you know about the person.  It could simply be a matter of their heart overthrowing their reason, because they love and hurt so much for the world and those who live in it.

Also, make sure you ask yourself before sharing any prayer request:

  • Do I have permission to share?
  • How much do I have permission to share?
  • Am I sharing these details because they are important or to justify my request?

When Introverts Grieve

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Introverts already have a hard time dealing socially with other people.  They can find their energy drained by interactions with other people, social situations, etc.  They recharge their batteries by withdrawing to solitude.   It doesn’t mean that introverts don’t like to engage socially with others, or try to avoid it like the plague.  It simply means that when they do socialize, it takes a lot out of them.  Therefore, introverts will not overwhelm their schedules with lots of plans.  They are very choosy about what they say yes to, and how often they say yes.  They are the most forgiving, of your friends, when you have to cancel.  They are very intentional with their time, and recognize that they need time off.

It would surprise many of friends to hear me say that I am an introvert… but it is the truth.  I’m very selective about my friends, cautious with my time, and can enjoy the complete silence of an empty house.  Even though when I AM out, I can talk your ear off and have a great time.

One of the most difficult times for an introvert, in my experiences, is when we are grieving.   Loss is hard on anyone, but for introverts it is also exhausting.  We appreciate your phone calls, messages, emails, cards, etc.  We are thankful for your offers of help and concern for our well being.   In dealing with death, we are already overwhelmed.  We are overwhelmed by our own emotions.  We are trying to navigate conversations with immediate and extended family members, hosting out of town guests, planning funeral or memorial arrangements.  We are making plans, writing obituaries, or having to think about what we will say at the funeral.  It’s a lot to contend with.

Then we are compounded by phone calls from well meaning people WHOM WE LOVE.  Truth is… introverts do not want to talk about what has happened any more than they have to.  We are not ready yet to answer questions or hear the same words over and over again.  It is NOT because we don’t want to talk to you right now.  It is because it is incredibly hard.  We just can’t do it.  Our conversations will be short, we may not have all of the answers to your questions yet, and frankly we may not even be emotionally or mentally ready to do so… and we need you to be okay with that.

So, how do you show an introvert you care?

Please do not just show up at our door, no matter how upset we are.  We need our solitude right now, and depending on who it was that passed away … we may need to cleave to our immediate family.  If we need someone to come and sit with us, trust me… we know we can call you.  We know you will be there. 

Dropping off meals is a sweet gesture, but we may not be up for the visit.  And I know you think you will just drop off and go… but we all know that a visit will happen.  If you feel like helping in this way, send a gift card for a local pizza place (even Little Caesars for $5.55 ready to go pizzas).  It doesn’t have to be an expensive meal.

Phone calls are a personal touch, but personal can be hard right now.  A quick text, a card in the mail, or an email w/o expectation of an immediate response is better.  It gives us time to respond when we are up to it.  Do not think that we see this gesture as cold or unsympathetic…. we appreciate it more than you realize.

Introverts cope differently than you would expect, the time we may need to lean on you may be weeks or months later, after the dust settles.  Be there for us then, pray for us now.

Introverts appreciate practicality and solutions during a time of grieving.  If you work for a hotel and can help us with discounted accommodations for family flying in to town, that is better than flowers or a meal.  With the recent passing of my Father In Law, there was a specific task that needed to be handled & we had no idea how to handle it.  I reached out to a friend and asked her help in the matter.  This to me was a relief that we didn’t have to navigate it alone, and that there was someone level headed doing the thinking for us.  

Finally, I would suggest offering specific help.  I’m just as guilty of saying to someone “Let me know if I can help in anyway”…. because we love that person, we want to help, but we don’t know how.  It’s a genuine offer.   However, having been on the other side of the situation, our brains don’t always know how to answer that question.  So instead of offering a blanket answer, offer what you know you can.   These are merely suggestions, and not applicable to our current situation:

  • Does your mother in law need someone to mow the lawn over the next few weeks?  My husband said he would be happy to come by.
  • Until things get settled, if anything needs fixing around the house, let the church know.  We’ll send our handy man to help you.
  • Since our kids go to school together, once you go back to work, I’m happy to pick your kids up from school until you can figure out a plan.
  • I’m happy to watch the kids when you guys have to make arrangements.  (Or – I’m happy to keep the kids while you are at the memorial/funeral, if that would make it easier for you.)
  • If you ever just don’t want to be alone, call me… I’ll bring the popcorn and the movies.

My husband and I were just talking tonight about this subject, a family friend called today (my Father in Law passed on Monday).  My husband appreciated that our friends have not been ringing our phone off the hook. It gives him time to process, and I knew exactly what he meant.  It also shows just how well people know us, because this is not a post of complaint.  Our friends have been absolutely amazing in giving us space and time as a family.

This post is just to share a little insight into the mind of the introverts in your life, when they are grieving.  KNOW that we love you.  We KNOW that you are thinking about us.  We KNOW that you care, and are willing to help.  Just know that more now than ever, we need that peace that comes from solitude, to re-energize ourselves for the heavy tasks ahead of us in the coming days and weeks.