Someone recently got in trouble in the middle of a prayer circle and it was kind of my fault.
I once wrote about something I called “confessing safe sins.” It was the idea that sometimes in small groups, people confess things that are safe in order to not look like sweaty heathens. They say, “I have something really gross to confess, I haven’t been reading my Bible enough,” or “my quiet times have been short lately.” I’m not sure if there is technically a right or wrong way to share a confession or prayer request but hopefully you’ve got friends you can be honest with and don’t ever fake it.
The person that emailed me though experienced a new variety of the safe sin move, and it’s one I was not prepared for. It’s like a 5 hour energy strength version of the original. If the first version was Kelly Clarkson, this new one is Lady Gaga. If that first version was the Lakers, this one is the Celtics. It’s that powerful. (I feel like we’ve completely exhausted our daily supply of pop culture references. I should have saved some for the last paragraph but I just get so excited.)
What did this poor person experience? Well, in a prayer circle, someone confessed that they were struggling with “over committing.” In their words, “they were volunteering too much.” Now let’s admit that there are some people who do that. The Swiss army knife volunteer at church is a burnout waiting to happen, but confessing to a prayer circle that your issue is that you over volunteer is very similar to something that happens during job interviews. Whenever a potential employee asks you, “What are your weaknesses?” you should never respond, “Well, I work almost too hard, you know? Like too many hours, with too many sales and too much profit. That’s an issue for me, making the company I work for too much money. You’ll probably need a money bin like the one Scrooge McDuck used to swim around in. That’s my weakness, I cause companies to build swimmable money bins.”
That’s silly, but what should you do when you hear a friend doing something like that in a prayer circle? Laughter can’t be the response. That’s harsh. What if there was another way? Maybe even three other ways.
3 Ways to Respond to an Iffy Prayer Request
1. Make your own.
If your friend says, “I need prayer about my habit of over volunteering and helping too many homeless people,” respond with your own request. Say, “I need help too, I’ve been too loving to my wife lately. I have literally lain too many of my own needs down in order to love her like Christ loved the church. It’s a problem.” It’s kind of a mutant version of what counselor’s call “reflective listening” where you reflect back what someone just said so that they can hear how they are sounding.
2. Squirt gun
No one ever takes me up on my squirt gun related ideas. If there was a squirt gun in the center of a small group and whenever someone was fake you could grab it and blast them, people would be honest. Getting squirted when you’re running outside with your kids is no big deal. When you’re wearing khakis and work clothes, it’s incredibly irritating. I would probably name our gun “liquid honesty” or “fluid justice.” But that’s just me.
3. Be honest yourself.
Honesty begets honesty. You want an honest prayer circle? Do what we’ve said a million times before, go first. Honesty doesn’t grow naturally. It’s cultivated and manicured and intentionally cared for. So get started. But understand sometimes a large group of semi-friends might not be the best place for a deep, raw prayer request. Allow folks to share them one on one with the people who really know them.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to judge someone’s prayer request. Maybe their over committing is rocking their world right now. All you can do is be honest yourself and not give dishonest, iffy prayer requests. But, if you laugh during a prayer circle or find yourself counting the word “just” when someone prays (Lord, just hear our prayers and just open our hearts.) I don’t accept any of that blame. It’s like trucks that drop rocks on the highway and have a sign that says, “I am not responsible for cracking your windshield.” That’s on you.
But so is the honesty. So go first. And don’t laugh.