Prayer Request

Prayer Request: A need or situation brought to the attention of a group of Christians so that they may pray for God’s intervention.

I am an expert at making it sound spiritual.

I have learned to wield words, to stack them around myself like a fortress. I know how to paint it so that my own failures are besides the point. The point is, of course, that jaw-dropping thing that he did. That asinine thing that she said. The way they hurt me.

The trick is to place all kinds of spiritual modifiers around it, the simplest being Please pray for [insert name] because [insert perceived failure here].

There is a way to pack so many words around a sharp fragment of gossip that I can convince myself that it’s not judgment but insight. Holiness. Some form of love.

I might say, I know she’s just living from her brokenness, but…. I might say, I’m feeling wounded because… I’ll probably try to work in grace somehow. I need grace to love [insert name of particularly tricky person here, plus each and every sordid detail of the story.]

What I’m really saying of course is, it’s not my fault. Something has happened that’s left me feeling slapped across the cheek, and instead of turning the other one, I am wandering around, showing the mark to anyone who will take the time to look. See what they did?

I am not talking here of the deep wounds, of the secrets we keep, of the stories we need to tell to be made whole. There are times when the details are necessary, times when the guilty parties need to be named.

I’m talking about something different – those daily, unavoidable ways that we fail each other. I’m talking about the times when I’m pent up with pain and anger and I’m venting for the catharsis of it, for the justice of it, for the sympathetic nods and dropped jaws around the prayer circle.

And I know how to make it sound righteous. I phrase the request just right so that they rally around my anger, and I feel lifted, carried by their empathy. But after the porch light is turned off and the plates have been cleared, I am left alone with my own heart, stripped bare like winter branches.

Gossip is a kind of loneliness. Well-dressed as it may be, justified as it may feel, it never leads to healing. We are healed only when we reveal our own dark hearts to one another, our own failures, our own ugliness. We join hands, our love for each other joined to the infinite love of God, and it becomes a kind of river. All of our empty, broken places are covered by it.

The best model for group prayer that I have seen comes from Discover the Life, a reader for small groups by Neal and Judy Brower. Theirs is a call to honesty without advice or judgment. Rather than buffering our failures with the rotten circumstances, the jaw-dropping details, we keep it basic. Not I am angry because…; simply I am angry. Will you pray for me?

There is something beautiful to me in this idea of stripped-down story, cutting through the causes to the deepest, hardest truth. There is something organic about coming around one another’s emptiness not to fix it, but to cover it, and I want to know that kind of healing, that kind of love.

I have been around the evangelical world a long time. I know all the best words. I am an expert in making it sound spiritual, in saying it just right.

Now I want to learn the quiet courage of saying it true.

31 thoughts on “Prayer Request

  1. Addie, I am right there all the time. With the added power, I might add, of having enough saint reading to be able to manipulate it into sounding even more pious. You have convicted me today of the ways I hide gossip in assumed faithfulness. Right in my gut, but I thank you for it, so the healing work can begin.

  2. Thanks Addie. I’m tempted to run on about “Life-giving Relationships,” but I’m going to let people go there if they want to. I’m honored at your recommendation and want to let all our friends know that we’d love to connect if there is anything we can do…
    Again, thanks for the link…

  3. I love the idea for the simple prayer request. So often I will sit in a small group and people will pass on prayer requests. In my own experience, it is because I either don’t want to share all the dirty details, or perhaps I don’t even understand exactly why I’m feeling what I’m feeling. To break it down to its barest essence is really freeing. And free is a good place to be.

    1. Me too, Aaron. I find myself holding back because I don’t want to share the whole, long story. And also, I resonate with this: “I don’t even understand exactly why I’m feeling what I’m feeling.” It is very freeing, this idea of stripping away the details and getting at the root of it.

  4. A beautiful reminder to favor truth over using the “just right” words. I didn’t grow up in the church, so when I became a believer and started to hear others gossip about a person followed by “pray for her” or “bless her heart,” it ripped away at my then-fledgling faith because I knew there was nothing positive about the conversation. Now I try (and sometimes fail) to avoid the trap of gossiping through prayer requests because it’s hurtful in many ways (to the person being gossiped about, to the person doing the gossiping, and to those whose faith is wavering). Thank you for beautiful reminder. 🙂

    1. Yes, Sandra. It’s one of those hard, human things about Christians — jarring when you’re expecting them to be different. Light and love. But the truth is we all struggle — me just as much as anyone. Gossip is that metaphorical monkey on my back that I can’t seem to peel off, and I’m just noticing the ways that I rationalize it, dress it up, pretend it’s something else. Oh how we need grace!

  5. I love this, Addie:
    “Gossip is a kind of loneliness. Well-dressed as it may be, justified as it may feel, it never leads to healing. We are healed only when we reveal our own dark hearts to one another, our own failures, our own ugliness.”

    Such good words and I’m with Preston in the being convicted boat. Thanks.

  6. I long and ache for more organic space to share my ugliness and pain. I find myself too often alone in the spaces after the dishes are cleared and not often enough in the authentic circle.

    1. Yes. It’s such a paradoxical thing: it feels very freeing in the moment to share all the details, to throw people under the bus, to cry for justice and empathy. But alone with my dishes, I feel worse. Dirty. A little sick.

      We’ve just begun to do small group prayer using this method of prayer requests and at first, it feels a little limiting. Like, how can you really understand me if I don’t tell you the whole story? How can we bond if we don’t have a common enemy? In the moment, it feels a little awkward, but it somehow cuts into a deeper place and after it’s over, I’m left feeling a little cleaner, somehow emptied of some of that anger and hurt.

  7. Thanks, Addie. We have weekly staff prayer meetings here at school–always in small groups–and there I find another kind of temptation: to not mention myself at all. To pray for these vague, random, big things that never move beyond the surface (i.e. “pray for all the students as they study”), because, hey, in two weeks, this group’ll switch again and forget all my prayer requests anyway. I’ve been humbled by the people who have approached me, weeks later, to ask, “So, how’s your friend doing? How is that [insert random thing here]?”

    I really love this: “We are healed only when we reveal our own dark hearts to one another, our own failures, our own ugliness.”

    1. Yes, I’m always amazed at people who can do that too. I’ve never been that great at remembering all the details, all the “requests.” I’ve never been good at carrying them in my heart. I’d love to be better at it.

  8. I’ve been “in the church” for a long time, too, and I agree with you completely. It’s so easy to dress up complaining, gossip, and venting as a prayer request… and I do it without a thought.
    Proverbs tells us fools vent, wise people have self control.
    Thanks for exposing truth and challenging others to think before we speak.

    1. Thanks Jayme. Yes, I’ve hurt people most in my life the times when I’ve said too much. When my words have been careless and thoughtless.

  9. So convicting and true and needed today especially when I’m hurt, watching others hurt the ones I love. Somehow, the venting should feel cathartic but never does. I’ve been on both ends–the prayer request and the gossip. Too often, grace isn’t there, so I choose to dwell where grace does. Sometimes, that’s simply in keeping my mouth shut.

    1. “the venting should feel cathartic but never does.” I feel this too. It always leaves me feeling icky.

  10. Wanna know the best thing about Life-Giving Relationships?

    It Works.

    Its hard to imagine life without our painful baggage, bitterness, addiction and issues isn’t it? So much so that I wonder if we actually learn to become dependent on them. When it comes to group prayer, it nice to be able to have a go to sin, or go to issue that you can pull out and share lengthy details about. We feel like participants that way. It also makes others feel as thought they are, “getting to know me.” The truth is, we are just regurgitating the same info each week, mostly likely throwing someone else under the bus each time. We don’t find victory from our pain, we simply wallow in it. We feel better for a few days, riding on people’s empathy only to find ourselves discussing the same issue next week. We are addicted to our pain. We talk about healing but we dont really want it, and the heart level probably don’t believe its even possible.

    Ultimately it is easier to embrace the hurt and pain and live with than to seek real healing, or to find real victory.

    Scarier than living life in our mess is the idea of no longer having the comfort of our mess to hide behind. THe truth is, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live new lives, free of sin and death, and we more often choose to swim in the mess of it all than embrace the idea of finding real victory from it.

    God can and will heal us through the prayers of other (James 5:16), but first we have to want it. We have to choose to risk being found out, rejected and discarded in exchange for the healing power of the Spirit.

    When it comes right down to it, the risk of that trade off tends to be too great for most Christians. I get that, I have been there, I am still there, but battling to remind myself that “Real is better than perfect.” When I choose to let it out, look only at my own heart and do business there and only there, I find myself experiencing real victory.

    The question here is… Do you really want to be healed?

    Love this post Addie, and I am convinced that this issue is one of the biggest hurdles we in the church have to get over to take hold of and become the picture of the gospel God desires we be.

    Thanks again for great thoughts…


    1. Thanks for this Jake. I loved the deeper explanations of life-giving relationships, and you’re right: I think it’s possible to be “addicted to your pain.” (Like that great line in that Gotye song: “You can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness. That line RESONATES with me.) I want to stop the crazy and get healed.

  11. Its more “human” than it is “christian.” In my 40 years of journeys around the church, in and out of my denomination, I’ve found people to be the same. Broken and pretending not to be; just honest enough to stay safe; never really believing that Jesus reaches into the places of our hearts we can’t reach and heals…if we just ask Him to…if a friend with whom I’ve risked transparency asks Him to, for me. The dynamic of James 5:16 in relationships is life-giving.

    1. Yes: “never really believing that Jesus reaches into the places of our hearts we can’t reach and heals”

  12. My 2nd yr university exams just finished and iam waiting for my results..i need god’s favor and grace manifested in my results..i really need a divine intervention..pls pray..


    God bless you


  13. I want to say it. “Pray for me because I am angry and I don’t understand God who does this, allows this, lets this be our life again.” But instead I am just going to say, “Pray for me, for I am in darkness and I am longing for light.”

    1. This made me cry. Praying for you. Praying for Amelia. Praying for blinding, beautiful Light.

  14. I need plenty more belief, plenty more power of prayer and more Holy Ghost with me. Please pray also that God gives me gifts of God’s grade.

  15. I pray for my wife Maria,for Beni,for Lu,for Emanuel, for Pevani, for Mawete, for Vani, for Bia and for Pedro.
    I ask particularly in favor of me, my wife and Beni to we approve class this month of december. for Beni approve tests (psicotecno, academic knowledge and physical) to reach a scholarship abroad by Sonangol and becomes a top personal of Sonangol in 2013.
    That God does me free from all persecution in CPL ene CGPN, and keep my job and my salary this biennium 2012-2014.

  16. PRAY GOD HEALS MY FUNCTIONal PROBLEM IN MY BODY CAUSING GAS/FLATUENCE FROM PILLS THE PSYCHIATRIST GAVE ME…AND I GIVE MY LIFE OVER TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.. AND HE HEALS MY BODY..and tell god to give me a life with friends love health, and protection, ask him to give me life and life more abuntantly. pray that he heals my hernia, body producing gas, discomfort, bad digestion, bubble feeling, depression, and he makes me smart, beautiful, and well liked and respected. pray he takes my past and burns it and gives me a brighter future..and sends all evil back to the source and bring me physical healing , and not let any human being touch my life anymore or psychiatrist or man, pray all hurt harm god heals and brings better things than that the best , and blesses me and moves for me in jesus name for a testimony…

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