“We need to pray for her,” my friend declared as she pulled a chair to sit next to me. It was almost time for cell group and we were waiting for the rest to arrive.
Concerned, I asked what had happened to our mutual friend.
My innocent question triggered an in-depth recount on my friend’s end. Buffeted with the occasional “No way!”, “Really?” and the likes from everyone within earshot, her dramatic storytelling drew the attention of those streaming in.
Some started chiming in with bits and pieces of information they had. Others speculated. “No wonder these days I feel that she …”
It gets tricky when – without any preconceived ill intention – an innocent prayer request steers off course.
“Okay,” my friend finally concluded after 30 minutes, “Remember to pray for her, yeah?”
We nodded and disbanded in hushed silence, each carrying a piece of the secret no one had previously known about the person. Somehow, without speaking, all of us knew our impression of her had changed.
This scenario happens more often than not in church gatherings and private chats – both online and offline. It usually starts with the best intentions, when people solicit prayers for someone, but if we aren’t careful, prayer requests can easily morph into gossip parties instead.
We all know why gossip is bad – nobody likes to be talked about behind their own backs, especially when private details are involved. Gossip is also a yeast for false rumours, a seed for sowing discord, and may even cause serious damage to someone’s reputation.
The Bible also warns us against speaking ill of others (Exodus 23:1, Proverbs 16:28, James 4:11), but it gets tricky when – without any preconceived ill intention – an innocent prayer request steers off course.
Should we, then, avoid seeking prayers and encouragement on behalf of others?
Or is there a better way of doing things?
In any prayer-turned-gossip session, I typically find that there are 3 types of characters involved: The Informants, the Ranters, and the Listeners. Each has their own role to play, and therefore has something they can do to manoeuvre the conversation back on course.
THE 3 TYPES OF GOSSIP GIRLS/GUYS
1. The Informant
A person who gives information to another.
The informant is, more often than not, the person who first brings up the issue. He/she has all the deets and because of this, will be the one who petitions others to pray for the person in need.
Unfortunately, there’s always this tendency to share too much in order to contextualise the prayer request for others who are unaware of this situation. “It helps them to know what they’re praying for!” is usually the reasoning.
But is there really a need to?
Consider these two ways of sharing the same prayer request:
Option A: “Please pray for Mrs Lim’s husband. He was recently fired from his job because he was caught skiving on his job. Previously, he also stole some money from his company to pay off his gambling debt. Because of this, their family is facing some financial problems now.”
Option B: “Please pray for Mrs Lim’s husband. He recently lost his job and their family is facing some financial problems now.”
As you can see, the essence of the prayer request doesn’t disappear with the omitted details. It is possible to get people to pray even with limited knowledge.
If you find yourself overstepping the boundaries of what to share, remember that the golden rule is prayer points, not prayer story. While it can be tempting to give people context for the prayers, sensitive and irrelevant details should be carefully left out.
And after all, it’s not our story to tell.
2. The Ranter
A person who rants.
An informant can sometimes double-up as a ranter – or trigger someone into ranting. Overwhelmed with information and emotions, there will be times the people involved in an issue need to unload.
However, there’s wisdom in being selective when it comes to discussing someone else’s life. It may be comforting to talk to someone you’re close to, but they may not have the capacity and maturity to handle the information properly.
For example, some may get negatively swayed in their perception of the person you’re talking about. Others may end up with a biased opinion when our words unintentionally paint inaccurate and false pictures of the person. It might even sow discord among friends and cause strife (Proverbs 6:16-19).
In such cases, I’ve always find sharing upwards (leaders, mentors), and not across (friends) to be a good guideline. The principle is to always seek a listening ear with someone mature, trusted and objective – and not just someone you enjoy talking to. As much as possible, keep irrelevant people out of the conversation too.
3. The Listener
A person who listens, especially someone who does so in an attentive manner.
If there are talkers, there will be listeners. Listeners play the most passive role, but it doesn’t mean their actions do not count. As someone who usually listens more than she speaks, I confess that I’ve unwittingly contributed to a gossip session by asking for more details.
“Oh, you know why or not?”
“Wah, then how?”
I think it’s very human to want to know more, but we need to be conscious of our intentions. Do we want to know because we’re concerned for the person? Or do we want to know to feed our own curiosity? Ultimately our objective is to pray, not to kaypoh.
If we’re truly concerned, it’s much more honouring to the person involved if we hear it straight from the horse’s mouth rather than through the grapevine.
I believe most gossip doesn’t start off as gossip in prayer channels. It’s only when we temporarily forget the purpose of prayer requests that we let our guards down and slip into comfortable chit-chat. And what a pity it is when a channel of blessing is turned into a channel for bashing – when our best intentions end up a disservice to the person we wish the best for.
It’d be beneficial if we remember to consciously measure our actions against our motives, especially if it involves another person. Be a little wiser, a little more cautious.