When I was growing up, my mother and I were members of an Evangelical Southern Baptist church. And like any church family, they wanted to lift each other up in prayer whenever one of their members needed support. To facilitate this, the women of the church had something called "the prayer chain."
It was a list of the participatory women in the church, and the way this was supposed to work was this:
- Someone hears about someone needing prayer
- The prayer request is passed along to the first lady on the list
- She prays (and continues to pray daily) and passes the request on to the next person on the prayer chain.
And now that person is lifted up in prayer by the many good women of the Mountain View Baptist Church, and their families, as well.
Image: Women Praying by johnragai via Flickr
It's a good idea, at heart, and of course, the heart is what motivates people to pray for you in the first place, so I'm not knocking the idea.
But when you're a pre-teen and teen girl and your mother is on that prayer chain, you begin to realize that for some women in the church (your mother included), what constitutes a "prayer emergency" for them may not be in the same ballpark as it would be for you. Car accident? Yes, we should pray. Relative dying? Yes, by all means.
Not so much.
That's right, my Mom told the entire prayer chain that I had a bad case of diarrhea when I was twelve. I went to prayer meeting on Wednesday night, and heard that prayer request read aloud before the congregation. I prayed, quite fervently, that the pew would split in half and dump me into a sinkhole that God would be merciful enough to form beneath me, so that I could never be seen again.
God wasn't that merciful. And neither was my mother.
I didn't get the part I tried out for in the eighth grade musical. My mom was sure to let the entire prayer chain know how brokenhearted I was so they could pray for me. And tell me how sorry they were for me over and over at choir practice the next day.
When my boyfriend stood me up on my eighteenth birthday, I got to hear it all rehashed in its painful glory at church the following morning.
I think you can understand me when I tell you that I loathed the ladies' prayer chain. And when I went away to college, my letters and phone calls home were light and full of fluff. I still remember my Mom telling me that she knew almost nothing about my life now that I was gone. Yes, I thought. And neither does anyone else. They only know what I want them to know.
It felt good to be free of the spectre of my life being played out in entirely too much detail for the masses.
Fast forward more than thirty years, to a few months ago, when my daughter suddenly channeled me at that same age, as she faced me down.
"Mom, you need to delete that picture."
"What? You're so cute! I'm not deleting that," I said.
"You're going to put it on Facebook. Just like when you posted that picture of me sleeping with my mouth open."
I was, but so what? It's my Facebook, and I'm her Mom, and I just took a really cute picture of her playing Minecraft, completely oblivious to the fact that her brother had his butt in her face. On purpose.
"Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is? God, Mom! All my friends see that."
"Oh, that's not true." I scoffed.
"It is true. Their Moms are all friends with you, and so is our babysitter. They all see it and after the picture of me sleeping they made fun of me all day at school. I was so humiliated!"
"It was a cute picture," I defended.
"And that time you told your Facebook friends that we had that big fight and I made you cry. Oh my God, I was so embarrassed. And now you're going to put up a picture of David's butt in my face. Great."
She stomped out of the room. And I didn't post that picture.
I didn't post it because she was right. If I were twelve, and my Mom did that, I would be humiliated, too. I know that feeling. My Mom didn't have Facebook, but she had her own form of social media. And at least her form couldn't archive very well.
So I started re-thinking every time I start to mention Anna in a post, or consider putting up a picture. Two weeks ago, Anna tried out for the middle school cheer team - and she didn't make it. She was devastated, and as I picked her up after tryouts, and sat in the parking lot with my arm around her shaking shoulders, she raised her tear-streaked face and said "Don't put this on Facebook. Please."
I promised her I wouldn't. And I didn't. It's none of their business. Her heartbreak made my heart break, but I don't have to share that, not at her expense.
So we have a deal now, unvoiced, but I'm honoring it. I don't post anything that could humiliate her in school or out (including when we have a fight), and I never, not ever post a picture without her approval of the picture. She's let a few go by - some of them even blatantly silly. But I know she appreciates that I ask, so I think she throws me a bone sometimes and approves a few here and there.
Anytime I'm the least bit tempted to cross the line, I try to remember being a twelve year old girl, sitting on a church pew, as the congregation asks God to bless my bowels.
And I remind myself that you can mean well and still hurt someone anyway. A lesson I learned from my mother, and my daughter.
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