• Maggie Wallem Rowe

Will the Request Go Unspoken? Avoiding the Peril of Being a Pauline

"The Gossips" - Norman Rockwell (1948)

You can’t linger long in the South without hearing the old gospel hymn “Will the Circle be Unbroken”. For over a century, it’s been warbled in rural churches, recorded by country artists, and sung through tears at graveside ceremonies.

Will the circle be unbroken By and by, Lord, by and by - There's a better home a-waiting In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

Call me crazy – and you won’t be far off – but those lyrics come back to me when I hear someone offer an “unspoken” prayer request. If you were raised GUBA (grew up born again) you know what I’m talkin’ about.

UPRs – Unspoken Prayer Requests – were a staple of prayer meetings in the small church that put fertilizer to my young faith. As a child, these were holy, mysterious things. I was in awe of the solemn women and men who put those private worries out there and just let them dangle, tantalizingly vague, in the communal air.

Now that could be because I was a blurter. When my Sunday School teacher would inquire whether there was anyone whose household could use prayer, I was the one likely to broadcast my family’s business to the world. “Mama’s got bladder problems!” or, “Pray my little brother finds a new home quick.” (Danny, if you are reading this, I didn’t mean it. Most of the time.)

In mid-century rural America, UPRs were a necessity due to party lines. Mention a personal need on Sunday, and darn if it wouldn’t be broadcast over the telephone wires on Monday.

I had a soft-spoken, godly mother who could put up with nearly everything, but she lost her patience when our neighbor up the road, Pauline, listened in on private conversations. Writing at my little desk near the phone, I’d hear my mother pause, sigh, and exclaim, “You hang up now, Pauline!” I grinned while waiting for the audible huff and a click you could hear halfway across LaSalle County.

But there’s nothing funny about gossip when you’re the object of it.

Has it happened to you, too? Many of us know what it’s like to become the object of speculation, rumor, or idle discussion. To have things said about you that are never said directly to you. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but the hurt caused by slander may never heal.

Webster’s calls out gossip in a manner that does not dignify it: “Gossip is information or opinion that is widely disseminated without any authority or confirmation of accuracy.”

In twenty-first century America, corporate party lines have been strung up with a vengeance. Call them Twitter, Facebook, or What’s App, we now have means to spread hearsay, unverified reports and scuttlebutt with the click of a mouse. Social media platforms have the awesome potential to connect people, raise funds, and share vitally important information, but they can also become a pipeline for propaganda.

My friend Becky tells a story about finding grounds in her coffeepot one morning after the filter slipped and pulled away from the side of the basket. “The filter was there,” she commented, “but it did no good if it did not cover the entire basket.”

Do we have filters we’re not using properly? We know we should confirm information before passing it along, but how often do we check out the accuracy of a source before hitting POST? If we’re sharing a story about a national event or public figure, do we take time to perform due diligence before unwittingly spreading a half-truth?

I’ve been guilty of clicking SEND before taking time to fully research the facts. Party-line behavior, just like Pauline. Ugh. When in doubt, check it out or leave it out.

What can be even more damaging is when we share personal news about another that, while it may be true, is simply not ours to share even in the guise of prayer. Just as we know to look before we leap, we need to ask permission before we speak.

So as a note to self, I’ve rewritten the chorus to that old southern hymn.

Will the request go unspoken?
By and by, Lord, by and by.
There’s a Savior already knows it,
And He’ll answer by and by.

Copyright Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2020. Permission granted to share with attribution.


Maggie's first book, This Life We Share, has just released from NavPress. If you're reading it, would you be so kind as to leave a brief review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com or Goodreads? Ratings and reviews help readers discover new titles and get the book into more hands, minds, and hearts. Thank you.