11 October 2022

The weepy person in the prayer group.

Decades ago, in my previous church, I led the prayer group for a few months. At that time we got a new regular attendee, who’d come pray with us every Wednesday. And every time she prayed, sang, or otherwise interacted with God, she cried.

A lot.

We’re not talking misty eyes, or a few tears rolling down her face. Lots of Christians pray with our eyes closed, and you’ll naturally get tears when you squeeze ’em tight, but nope, this wasn’t that either. We’re talking full-on snotty blubbering. Like her child just died or something.

That first prayer meeting she attended, the women of our prayer meeting gathered round her, hugged her, prayed for God to comfort her, asked God to help whatever had her so sorrowful, asked whether there was anything they could do. Took ’em the rest of the prayer meeting—and then some. (I had to stick around afterward as they tried to minister to her, ’cause I had to lock the building. I didn’t get home till 10PM.)

The next week: Same deal. We came to pray, and so did she… and the next thing you know, she’s bawling and moaning, and the women tried to comfort her again, and we again went overtime doing so.

The third week: One woman went over to pray with and comfort her. The rest were telling me, “Oh, she has some serious emotional issues. She needs therapy, not prayer.”

Fourth week, all the women just let her go off in a corner of the chapel to wail.

Some of you are reading this, and think this sounds just awful of us. Hey, if I were a newbie Christian, I’d think the very same thing: She’s coming to us for help, and we’re pushing her aside?

Except we didn’t. The women who realized she needed therapy, tried to get her therapy. Found her a therapist who’d see her. Tried to line up an appointment. The weepy person was having none of that. So the women were done—like exhausted parents who give up on trying to get their infant to sleep in her own bed, and just leave the baby in the room to cry it out. Soothing her wasn’t working. So they quit.

A psychologist friend explained it best: You know how some people feel much better after having a good cry? That’s largely what this woman was doing.

Here’s what’s wrong with her behavior. What also made her feel much better, was having a crowd of Christians try to make her feel better. And they totally succeeded. But it’s not our job to make her feel better! It’s God’s. It’s just neither she nor we realized that. We thought she needed our comfort, and she was so pleased to get it, and wanted more. Even if it meant sucking the life out of all her comforters.

I’ve seen this phenomenon a number of times since. No, such people don’t necessarily need therapy and medication. But what they’re doing is wholly inappropriate. We’re supposed to take our lamentation to God, and the Holy Spirit is supposed to do the comforting. Instead they take their emotions to us, have us comfort them, and parasitically drain our ministers of their emotions. Humans aren’t equipped to do this! We either cry along, and get just as ruined, or we clamp up and step away in self-defense… and get accused of being cold, unsympathetic, and compassionless.

Dealing with such people.

When these people show up in your prayer groups, or your Sunday morning services, or randomly appear at the church on some weekday and wanna weep all over the pastors, we gotta help them.

And I know; many longterm Christians who’ve seen this happen quite a lot, are likely rolling their eyes and groaning, “Ugh. We really don’t. They just need to get back on their meds.” Yeah, you can shut up now. We don’t know whether they’re unmedicated or not, or stoned or not. We need to find that out first, and quit leaping to snap judgments, like the truly awful head priest Eli did with Hannah.

1 Samuel 1.12-17 NLT
12 As she was praying to the LORD, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”
15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the LORD. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”
17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

We can see from other parts of 1 Samuel that Eli was a lousy judge of character, and presuming silent prayer means you’re drunk is just another example of it. Presuming weepy prayer automatically means you’ve come to church looking for Christians to make you feel better, is yet again being a lousy judge of character. That may be the case. And it may not be. We gotta get to know these people, and then discern the situation. We gotta ask the Holy Spirit, who can steer us the right direction if we’ve deduced wrong.

In many cases God will enlist the aid of us Christians. Someone needs a physical hug; we can do that! Someone is too overwrought to listen to God, so he has one of his prophets say something comforting to them. Someone needs resources—they need work, need therapy, need food, need medical attention, need a lawyer, can’t pay bills, can’t fix the car, or anything else which doesn’t require supernatural intervention: We can do something. Usually that’s why God drops such people on us. He wants us to step up!

And in some cases, yeah, it’s someone selfishly seeking attention so they can feel better. Wanting comfort from people, not God. And that’s not right.

Every case is different. Figure out which one you’re dealing with, and don’t just presume it’s one where we needn’t get involved.

Is it you?

In one case, the weepy person in the prayer group was simply a new Christian who didn’t have the best hold on his emotions. That’s actually quite common among newbies. Gentleness, the ability to control our emotion, is one of the Spirit’s fruit—and it stands to reason if you’re only just learning to become fruitful, you’re gonna be gentleness-deficient. Darn near everything is gonna make you cry. (Or rage. Or despair. Or panic. And so forth.)

But there’s nothing wrong with weepy prayer! When we’re sad, in pain, suffering, or depressed, we should cry out to God. And if we feel like crying, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Frankly, if we can’t bring our hurts to God, same as our joys, our prayer life sucks. And the devil’s gonna take advantage and pile on the hurts—and try to get us so hurt, we never talk to God.

And there’s nothing wrong with sharing our sorrows with fellow Christians, so they can pray for us too. In fact there’s plenty of good reasons to do so. Sometimes they can help! And at the very least they can petition God.

But if you’re saving that behavior for the prayer group—you’re not engaging in weepy prayers during your own personal prayer time, but you’re bringing that stuff to the prayer group so others can make you feel better—that’s selfish and inappropriate. It’s like praying in tongues too loud. You’re hogging the focus of the group, and hijacking their emotions. Stop that.

If you can’t get hold of your emotions, you’re not yet ready to join a prayer group. Or if you’re going through some personal stuff, and now everything makes you cry, you need to step away from ministry for a while and work on yourself. And don’t forget to share with the group why you’re stepping away, and have them pray for you! Pray for God to help tighten up your self-control, and give you peace and joy.