Perhaps my first encounter with how ugly religion could be, was on a radio station’s Facebook page, many years ago. The post in question was simply an opening for their listeners to comment prayer requests. Scrolling through the comments, I stumbled upon one of the most callous exchanges I’ve ever witnessed. A lady modestly stated that she was blessed and had one small request. Her four year old daughter’s kitten, just weeks old, had contracted a virus that would likely take the animal’s life. The child was heartbroken, and the mother had asked for prayer that the kitten live.
The only reply to the poor lady’s comment was a man, scolding her.
His exact words are forgotten in my memory, lost as I began seeing red in anger at the way he shamed the poor woman. The gist of his comment was that many people on the forum were asking for prayers that “mattered”. Cancer. Bankruptcy. Her prayer request was nonsensical, selfish, stupid even. He even began referencing scripture as justification for his berating. I felt angry and physically ill at the vitriol this man was spewing at a stranger whose only desire was to ask for prayer.
Before I could write a comment, several others appeared, all in defense of the lady. She herself replied, making the situation much more embarrassing for the man. She wrote that she was “blessed in all things”, a good marriage, financially stable, and surrounded by healthy loved ones. She didn’t lack much or have much to ask for, just that her daughter know she could approach fellow believers for prayer for something that mattered to her. She apologized profusely, embarrassed. The man dug his heels in and said she should be ashamed; she had wasted everyone’s time, and worse, their prayers. The feed exploded with people rebuking and arguing with the man. He responded with a string of comments and more scripture defending his atrocious behavior. Finally, an elderly woman reminded him of Philippians 4:6 “pray about everything” and asked very politely if he understood what the word “everything” meant. At this, the man finally disappeared. The mother thanked the woman who defended her so graciously. The other commenters assured her that the majority of her family in Christ did not share the angry man’s feelings.
This exchange has stuck in my mind for both the appalling attitude of the man and gracious response of the lady who defended a perfect stranger. The mom told the same story to both and incurred wildly different responses from each. I remind myself that each person I encounter has a story and I get to choose my response and influence that person’s story from that point on. We all have that power. If you call yourself a Christian, it’s less a power and more of a responsibility. Represent Christ well, my friends. Especially in the little things. You may never know what a big thing it means to someone else.
Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.
Colossians 4:5-6 MSG
~ Brianna Richardson