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?