15 August 2023

The passive-aggressive prayer.

Years ago in a small group, it came time for people to take turns praying, so we did. I prayed for… something. Don’t recall what. It’s not relevant to this article.

What is relevant is I had prayed, regarding my request, that regardless of what I wanted, God’s will be done. Because, I stated in the prayer, sometimes it’s not, and I don’t want that. I want God to answer my prayers however he sees fit.

Well, this little statement of mine triggered one of the other guys in the group. Let’s call him Prakash. He believed God’s will is always done, because he believed God determines everything in the universe. (Evil too.) And he was still in the “cage-stage,” meaning he was ready, willing, and eager to argue theology with you. Especially since he was entirely sure he was right. I’m using past-tense verbs because I hope Prakash is better now. But sometimes cage-stagers never grow out of it, and turn into angry Fundamentalists whose list of mandatory fundamentals gets shorter, tighter, stricter, and less gracious with every passing year.

Anywho, Prakash had already taken a turn at praying, but he couldn’t help himself: He helped himself to another turn. And this prayer wasn’t about anything our prayer leader had asked us to pray about. Wasn’t about any personal requests he had for God. Wasn’t about any other people Prakash was interceding for.

Nope. He just wanted to remind God that he’s sovereign and therefore always gets his way. To appreciate the fact God’s will is always done, even though the rest of us human simpletons may not recognize this, and might imagine otherwise. To worship God for this particular trait of his.

To, y’know, passive-aggressively correct me by slipping a little theology lesson into prayer time.

Gotta admit, I was a little tempted to take another turn myself, and slip my own passive-aggressive prayer into the mix: “And God, we thank you for Prakash and his wisdom and humility, and pray that you water that mustard seed and make it grow into a mighty tree under which birds can perch. He’s got more than enough fertilizer; he’s ready; just make him grow, Lord. In Jesus’s name.

But not seriously tempted. I know better than to be a dick during prayer.

Thing is, if we’ve been to enough prayer groups—or simply if we grew up Christian and had to deal with annoying Christian siblings who pulled this kind of stunt (or, admittedly, pulled it ourselves) —we’ve all encountered the passive-aggressive prayer. The prayer which isn’t really a prayer; we’re talking to someone else instead of God, but for one reason or another we’ve chosen to disguise it as a prayer. Not that it’s fooling anyone.

It’s pure hypocrisy, and the proper way to deal with it is to call it out. But more often we Christians avoid our duty to rebuke bad behavior, and simply ignore it as if someone ripped a wet fart in the elevator: We all know it happened, but we’re not gonna say anything, and we’re gonna hope it dissipates as fast as possible.

Only problem is, when this behavior isn’t rebuked, the passive-aggressive petitioner is gonna think they cleverly got away with it. It wasn’t all that clever… but since nobody rebuked them, yeah they did get away with it.

So they’re totally gonna do this again.

Correct this behavior right away.

My way of dealing with this, when I’m leading the prayer group (heck, sometimes even when I’m not leading the prayer group) is to rebuke it immediately.

“Father God, I’m sorry; I gotta pause this prayer.” [to the perpetrator] “Birgitta? We’re talking to God here. If you want to correct Adelynn, please do so afterward. This is not the time.” [back to God] “Thank you God, for forgiving the interruption. Let’s continue.”

In my experience this tends to shock the passive-aggressive petitioner. They weren’t expecting me to pause the prayer. Some of them don’t think we’re allowed to pause prayers—that once we start praying, we have to keep praying till someone says Amen. This is why they went the route of passive-aggressive prayer: It doesn’t interrupt the prayer, and nobody’s gonna interrupt the prayer to correct them, so they can totally get away with it. Well, surprise: That’s not happening today.

Pausing a prayer doesn’t just scandalize miscreants, though. I’ve been told by other Christians I should never interrupt a prayer, even when someone’s misbehaving. Usually they give a ridiculous reason or two; the most common is “the passive-aggressive behavior isn’t worth dignifying with your interruption.” Again, treat it like it’s a fart and it’ll go away on its own.

But we’re not dealing with someone who unintentionally farted and was embarrassed by it. We’re dealing with someone who deliberately farted and wants people to flinch at the smell. Passive-aggressive prayer is typically meant to embarrass the person it’s referring to. It’s meant to publicly correct them, or even belittle them, in a way they’re hesitant to respond to—’cause we don’t interrupt prayer time, right?

Unless of course I do interrupt prayer time, and call them on it.

I’ve also been told I oughta correct these miscreants in private, lest it embarrass them. Yeah, no. They tried to embarrass someone else in public, therefore their rebuke should also be public. Same as when people tried to pull similar stunts on Jesus, and he corrected them right there, for all to hear, and for the gospel-writers to put in the bible for us to read.

Never practice this kind of hypocrisy.

Like I said, passive-aggressive prayer is hypocrisy. Bad enough that we practice hypocrisy at all, but when we’re talking to God himself? And when we know hypocrisy is the one thing which annoys Jesus the most? Yeah, that’s not smart. Don’t do that.

If you wanna rebuke or correct someone else, just rebuke or correct ’em. Don’t disguise it as anything else; just be straight and honest about it. If it stands any chance of embarrassing them, do it in private.

But if they were trying to embarrass someone else, don’t worry so much about embarrassing them. Yeah, they might be able to handle public criticism—but they just offered public criticism, and with a log in their own eye while they did it.

No no no. Let’s avoid doing passive-aggressive anything. Better to be fully aggressive. Even better to be kind. But definitely don’t be a hypocrite.