OK, this is a biggie for me. Being pretty close to bedridden for almost a decade with a mysterious illness that remains undiagnosed (though apparently HEALED at long last, thank You Lord with all my heart) led me through this bizarre journey with prayer.
I'm not going to go into the details of the mystery illness, because many MANY health professionals have been all over it ad nauseam over many MANY years, and not only have they been unable to just give it a proper diagnosis, but now that I'm better, the unilateral response has been a big SHRUG. They're happy they're not on the hook for figuring out what it is anymore, or for managing the juggling act that was all the various meds and allergies and sensitivities to all the various meds used to treat the symptoms with NO IDEA what was actually causing the problems.
But I digress. So when I was in pretty much constant pain for over a decade, occasionally I'd lose my mind and ask someone new (like a Bible Study group or a "God chosen" (aka RANDOM) person on the prayer team at the front of our church after a Sunday service) to pray for my healing.
There were four general responses, depending on the circumstances:
1. ADVICE. Please just PRAY. When someone is asking for prayer, they are asking for PRAYER. When they want advice, they’ll give you details and ask for ADVICE. Totally different things.
- Besides, with over 10 years of dealing with a mystery illness in 2 different countries, do you really think that if any of the LEGION of pick-an-ologist(s) thought there was benefit to "eating right for my blood type" or "making sure I had enough fiber" or "giving up chocolate cake and fried chicken" that perhaps I would have already not only heard of it, but TRIED IT!? RAWR.
2. PLATITUDES. Requests were written into someone's/everyone's journal to be prayed over (or not) later, usually we ran out of time during the small group breakout to actually PRAY together;
- So let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with writing down a prayer request, but it really should be followed up on, at a MINIMUM via email to the small group by whoever the discussion leader is so that the person being prayed for can actually benefit from the knowledge that the people they were vulnerable with actually give a shit. I totally also believe that prayer works even if the person being prayed for isn't there to hear it (even by email! Obviously we're praying TO GOD, and He hears everything), because I pray for people who would actually be offended if they knew I was praying for them... but between believers, at least TO ME, if I'm vulnerable with you, then I am trusting you to be responsible with it and treat it appropriately. And hey, if I've asked you to pray about something, and you do, and then later you ask how it's going, I'm going to assume you ACTUALLY WANT TO KNOW THE TRUTH, even if it's not the "praise report" you're hoping for.
3. PRAYER! Someone laid hands on me and started praying fervently, passionately and at GREAT LENGTH for my INSTANTANEOUS delivery from this illness. YAY! (sorta).
- Again, in the interest of clarity, I actually think that praying for someone as soon as they ask for it, out loud, with them, with the full expectation that God will heal immediately is absolutely correct, Biblical, important and totally appropriate. HOWEVER. When someone limps up to you and asks for prayer for healing from chronic crippling pain, it's a good idea to pull up a chair for them unless you're the type to keep it short. If you're not the type to keep it short, please be sensitive to the condition/demeanor of the person you're praying for. Even the tiniest hands with the lightest pressure can cause excruciating pain if left in the same place for too long, and sometimes rubbing is a problem too. Just check in. Be sensitive.
- Please accept that sometimes God's answer to prayer is "No" or "Not yet". Please choose to behave as though you believe that God has His reasons that maybe you aren't privy to! And maybe whatever those reasons are have nothing to do with me, my level of faith, any behavior or unconfessed sin! GAAAAH. Different post altogether. At any rate, I'm SO glad that whoever you are is a "prayer warrior" who is passionate about seeing God move through prayer. Please just be sensitive to the needs of the person you're praying for.
4. GOSSIP. "Can you provide me with the details so I can pray effectively?" is actually the NICEST, least intrusive, most respectful way I've heard this response, which feels a lot like pressure to share details that I was thoroughly SICK TO DEATH of repeating, or frankly, nervous about sharing.
- This one deserves a STORY or two. The BEST story I have actually has nothing to do with healing, but wow, this behavior has become so common that it’s a "mea culpa" joke at Women of Faith conferences. First, my second-best story…
After struggling with this chronic pain thing for about 8 years, I was attending a new Bible Study at our (pretty new to us) church, and we were divided up into smaller groups for sharing insight about the homework and prayer requests and building up community in a more effective way than can be achieved through a video-driven lecture facilitated by one leader of 40-mumble women. So we filled out our typical "please put me in a group with my bestie but not with so and so" sheets of paper and handed them in on the first week. Week two rolls around, and when we split off, we all introduce ourselves to the group, and I rattle off the typical "My name is Nickie, I'm married to Chris, he's a bass player new to the worship team, we've been coming here about 6 months, we are a blended family with three teenagers; two girls who live with us full-time and a son who recently moved back to Canada to live with his mother." (THAT story may appear in a different post later about Shepherding, it’s still pretty raw 4 years later).
At any rate, we made the rounds of the table, everyone else delivered their own version of the typical intro, and we reviewed our first thoughts about the video we just watched. Then came "prayer request" time, and when it got to my turn, I asked for prayer about our son moving back to Canada, and for my health, because the stress of his move back was making the pain much worse than usual, and I was having some new complications with an already dysfunctional female plumbing system.
The situation with our son was pretty raw and fresh. The situation with my health was pretty familiar and aggravating for the old stuff, and pretty gruesome for the new stuff. I really didn't want to go into the details, because the first was emotionally excruciating and the second was exhausting and embarrassing. But there was a gal at the table who immediately went into “problem-solving” mode. She wanted all the gory details about everything, and I responded with “I really don't want to go into it, God knows the details” which was really unsatisfying for her I guess, because she WOULD NOT LET IT GO.
Not only did we not get to actually pray together as a group, but three other people in our group of 8 didn't even get to share their own requests, though I'm sure they weren't really eager to be vulnerable with this barracuda at the table anyway. Even when our table leader stepped in and insisted that we move along out of respect for me and the others at the table, she would NOT let it go, she eventually followed me out to the hallway, HOUNDING me for details about my reproductive system! The only reason she didn't follow me to the PARKING LOT is because she had kids to collect from childcare and I did not.
Which set off all my alarms that I'd had freshly installed from my BEST story, which was just prior to this and had contributed to the change of venue to our new church…
So our son has Asperger's Syndrome, and he is my husband's son from his first marriage. I'm not going to share HIS story on the internet because it's not mine to share, but that part of his story is kinda like saying he's a boy with dark hair. It's a descriptor and is actually more germane to this story than the color of his hair. At our previous church, there was another family who had an adopted son who also had Asperger's Syndrome. The really important factors here are that we were two mothers struggling to really connect with our adopted/integrated teenaged sons who had specific issues with relating to other people on an emotional level. If you want to learn more about Asperger's, check the internet, you’re here anyway. ;)
At any rate, my family was under siege with struggles with our son, most of which was typical teenager stuff, but it was all aggravated by the stepmom factor and confused by the Asperger's issues on top of it all. This kind of stuff is hard for any parent to navigate, and I was feeling particularly fortunate to have made a connection with someone who could relate to me as a mom of a special needs child that also wasn't biologically mine. In that weird way that some relationships build artificially quickly when there’s a lot of common ground to talk about, we became pretty close pretty fast, and I shared with her some ways in which this struggle with our son was affecting our marriage.
Pretty deep stuff, actually. There was some real heavy lifting going on. It was tough enough that I wasn't really surprised when life got too busy with our personal dramas to spend a lot of time together for a couple of months.
So imagine my shock when someone COMPLETELY OUTSIDE THIS PARTICULAR CIRCLE OF TWO (four if you count the hubbies, six if you count the boys, but really, I don't because they weren't in the room while we were "sharing") expressed surprise that I was still wearing my wedding rings because she’d heard that "things were SO bad" in my marriage "because of what was going on" with our son. Yeah. Lovely. Miscellaneous person that I'm not close enough with to share anything with directly has intimate details about my MARRIAGE that could ONLY have come from ONE SOURCE. And was SO UNASHAMED about the gossiping behavior that she actually tried to engage ME in gossiping about MYSELF!
Gotta give them credit for brass ones.
So to bring this around to the POINT of this post and the blog… how can we be REAL with each other when we aren't SAFE with each other? How am I supposed to continue to share deep, painful journeys with people when I have so much experience with them either disregarding me altogether, disrespecting my actual needs in the moment, and using my vulnerability as fuel for malicious gossip?!
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. It's all I can do. I choose to foster friendships with people and try to protect their trust the way I wish mine had been protected. I try to be the safe person I'm looking for. When someone asks me to pray for them, I pray. Right away WITH THEM if I can. I try to stick to the list they've given me and try to let God be God of the details, since even if the details HAVE been shared with me, all I can really know for sure is that God has details I don't anyway.
For the rest of it, I guess I choose to post all my struggles on the internet so there are no juicy secrets to share behind my back anymore!
And off I go to a new Bible Study tonight. Prayers please!