Praying Together About the Things We Can’t Talk About

We are living in very polarizing times today. In the United States, it has become increasingly difficult to hold a conversation about a political topic with people who disagree with you. Friendships and family relationships have become frayed and painful. Family gatherings, such as Thanksgiving, have in some families become times of great anxiety and even fear. I have no idea what the solution to this problem is. I have no idea how to learn to talk about these things again. But I do have an idea of something that might be helpful in some situations.

I have an idea of how we might pray together. In a sermon I preached back in October, I was able to lead my congregation in praying together about issues surrounding the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In the weeks following, I considered how this process might be something people could do outside the context of worship. I came up with a tool that might just do that. I present it below. Alternately, click here to download a printable version.

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  1. Start by saying something like this to one another: “I respect you, and I want to find a way to pray together with you about something we disagree strongly about.”
  2. Together, name the issue that you’re disagreeing about. State it in neutral terms.
  3. Person A identifies their primary worry: what it is about the issue that gets them worked up. Phrase this in this way: “I don’t want _______ to happen.” This is called Primary Worry A.
  4. Both people work together to rephrase Primary Worry A into something they can both agree on. The goal is to find the core worry, phrased in a way Person B can agree with: “Well, I don’t want that to happen either!” That doesn’t always happen right away. They may have to work together to rephrase it, or make it more broad, until it’s something that both people can agree with. We call this Core Worry A.
  5. Then Person B identifies their primary worry. Again, phrase this in this way: “I don’t want _______ to happen.” This is Primary Worry B.
  6. Again, both people work together to rephrase Primary Worry B into something they can both agree on, Core Worry B.
  7. Now you have two core worries, two things you both want to avoid. Say a simple prayer together, perhaps like this: Dear God, we come together today, and pray that you would prevent _ (Core Worry A)___ from happening, and also that you prevent ___(Core Worry B)_____ from happening. We disagree on the details, but we both want these things, and we believe you do too. May your will be done. Amen.

 

Example 1. Barney is pro-life; Mildred is pro-choice.

  1. The issue in neutral terms: Whether abortion should be legal.
  2. Primary Worry A: Barney says, “I don’t want babies to be killed.”
  3. Core Worry A: Mildred says, “I don’t agree with that, because I don’t believe that embryos are babies.” So Barney rephrases it: “I don’t want innocent lives to be lost.” Mildred says, “Okay. I can agree with that!”
  4. Primary Worry B: Then Mildred says, “I don’t want men telling women what to do with their bodies.”
  5. Core Worry B: Barney says, “Well, I think it’s okay to stop women from committing murder!” So Mildred rephrases it: “I don’t want women to feel that they are controlled by men.” Barney says, “Okay. I can agree with that.”
  6. Prayer: Barney and Mildred both pray together: “Dear God, we come together today, and pray that you would prevent the loss of innocent life, and also that you would prevent women from feeling controlled by men. We disagree on the details, but we both want these things, and we believe you do too. May your will be done. Amen.”

 

Example 2. Eva and Max are both worked up about the migrant caravan in Mexico. Max wants to welcome them as refugees seeking asylum, while Eva wants the US to turn them back immediately.

  1. The issue in neutral terms: There is a caravan of migrants heading toward the US border.
  2. Primary Worry A: Eva says, “I don’t want our country to allow those people to come here and break our laws.”
  3. Core Worry A: Max says, “But they’re not coming to break our laws; they’re coming to seek asylum, which is perfectly legal!” Eva says, “I disagree with you. But what if we say it like this: I don’t want our country to allow anyone to come here illegally.” Max thinks about it, and says, “Well, that’s not what I think is going on with the caravan, but I do agree with your statement. Okay.”
  4. Primary Worry B: Then Max says, “I don’t want our country to give into its worst instincts.”
  5. Core Worry B: Eva says, “That’s hurtful, Max. I don’t think I’m one of the ‘worst instincts’ of our country.” Max says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. How about this: I don’t want our country to give up on its history of compassion.” Eva replies, “Alright, fine. I don’t think that’s really what’s going on here, but I can agree with your statement.”
  6. Prayer: Eva and Max both pray together: “Dear God, we come together today, and pray that you would keep our country strong in enforcing its laws, while at the same time keep it compassionate in dealing with others. We disagree on the details, but we both want these things, and we believe you do too. May your will be done. Amen.”

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