Back in the day, we would end our large group Bible study with prayer. The leader had us write down any requests we had to share on little cards. The requests were collected at a prayer station throughout the evening. We had to sign our names… and if we had a Bible verse or promise we wanted to claim, to write that down, too. (Because… taking Bible verses out of context for your own selfish reasons is a thing, you know… but I digress…)
Bear in mind, we were all undergraduate and graduate students, so the topics were predictable. It was the usual stuff: “travel mercies” for trips home to see family; stress related to papers, tests, and professors; issues in the news that were concerning; thinly veiled requests for “a friend”; and… “an unspoken need.”
Our leader really did not like the “unspoken” requests. One week he went off on us, lecturing on how we should trust one another and write our felt needs so that we as a group could support one another. And since we had signed our names, he then took it upon himself to follow up with each person later, privately, and try to bully the prayer request out of us.
Until he came to me…
And I looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “OK, the next time I am having severe menstrual cramps to the point of diarrhea, I’ll be specific… if that’s what you want.” He blushed, stammered, and mumbled… they could pray for healing… blah blah… I agreed that if he were going to pray for something specific for my healing, I was 100% on board. Then he commented that he never would have known… that I looked like I was “fine.” (Did I roll my eyes at him? Why yes… I did.)
I caught up with this girlfriend later in the evening for a quiet conversation. We discussed how there were serious issues and heartaches that people might not want to express in a group setting. There were things that were embarrassing to talk about… but someone wanted prayer support. We agreed that writing an anonymous request (including “unspoken” ones) should be OK. I knew she would follow up and she did!
The issue of “unspoken” prayer requests never came up again. And I dared him every month to ask me when I left an “unspoken” request at the prayer station. (And I might have invited other women in the study to do the same. Because I’m like that.)
I thought of that situation recently while waiting in a doctor’s office. On the wall was a small frame with the words attributed to Ian McLaren, c. 1898:
“Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”
Some of the kindest, funniest, most compassionate people I know are carrying incredible burdens. I hear stories that are simply heartbreaking. Perhaps it is because of my work as a chaplain and bereavement counselor. Perhaps it is because I am just attuned to observing and listening. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.
The unspoken needs around us are many. You may never know about them. In any case, there’s enough ugly out there in the world… be kind to each other.