“I have an unspoken.” or: “I have an unspoken prayer request.” Does this kind of prayer request get your imagination racing?
For most Christians, going to church services and prayer meetings means a chance to catch up with friends and fellow believers. But for a few believers, it also means a chance to catch up on the latest gossip and stories going around the congregation. Unfortunately, this term “unspoken” can often add fuel to those gossipy flames.
It’ll happen like this. People are sharing prayer requests, and someone will raise a hand or stand up when it’s their turn, and they’ll say, “I have an unspoken prayer request.” Or, if they’re into the hip slang of the church, they might simply say, “I have an unspoken.” That means they want prayer, but they aren’t going to give a description of what the prayer is for.
As you can read for yourself in the definition of unspoken prayer request printed below, some people think that the “unspoken” automatically has to do with something “unspeakable.” That is to say, if you can’t even say what the prayer is for, then it must have to do with sex, alcohol, divorce, bankruptcy, an impending crisis, or whatever else the seething crucible of the human imagination can invent.
The first quotation for unspoken prayer request that I can find is from 1963. So perhaps the expression started gaining in popularity in the 1950s or late 1950s.
But it isn’t always the case that unspoken prayer requests are about something salacious. For some people, they don’t want to keep on repeating the details at every prayer circle they visit—maybe they already have an inner circle of prayer warriors who are fully up-to-date on the details. Also, some people are just shy, or they don’t want to take up a lot of time when there are other prayers waiting to be requested. So just because someone wants to be a little more private, doesn’t mean that their life is a den of sleazy sin.
Do you refer to unspoken prayer requests as “unspokens”? Did you hear the term growing up?
You can read lots of interesting examples of this term in action by looking at the citations in the entries below.
unspoken n. [Elliptical for *unspoken prayer request] Also: special unspoken (see 1990 citation). Plural: unspokens. Syn *unspoken prayer request.
• 1988 Peshkin God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School 118 : Mr. Cline asked his seventh-graders for prayer requests…. The prayer that resulted from these and other requests encompassed the goldfish, two dogs, four “unspokens” (mentioned as such by students, and never described), and one sick aunt. 1990 Wagner God’s Schools 129 : Most of these [prayers] are “special unspokens” for which the student does not share the specific nature of the request. 2006 Long If You Don’t Die to Self, I May Have to Kill You 91 : By then I was a group leader and occasional lecturer, with the confidence to speak up about unspokens. “Gee, all these unspeakable requests sure leave a lot to the imagination,” I said, grinning. “Karen,” Janice began … “Many of these ladies do not want to take the time to explain the situations; often there’s too much detail, and it would simply take too long.” 2009 Pratt Diary of an Am. Boy 204,205 : The more prayer requests we came up with, the longer she’d pray, and the shorter class would be…. “I have seven unspokens.”
unspoken prayer request n. Also elliptically *unspoken, special unspoken (see under *unspoken), unspoken request (see citations for 1963, 1970, 1981, etc.), special unspoken request (see citations for 1998, 2004), unspoken need, special unspoken need (see 2001a citation). A request for prayer that is made without any elaboration regarding the need for prayer.
Some people assume that all unspoken prayer requests deal with sexual sins (see 1993 citation; at *unspoken, see 2006 citation) and embarrassing dilemmas (see 2009 citation). But unspoken prayer requests are also made for reasons of shyness (see 1977 citation) and as a courtesy to others who may be waiting to share their own prayer requests (at *unspoken, see 2006 citation).
See also *prayer request.
• 1963 Christian Living X. 32 : So far no one has had to ask an “unspoken request,” because everyone feels free to share her innermost thoughts. 1967 Dunn God Is for the Alcoholic 68 : Few people will remember to pray for an “unspoken prayer request” in the days to come. Many will become concerned and pray for the loved one or friend of a fellow Christian. 1970 Palmer My Son, My Son 186 : Whenever he was asked for prayer for Craig—which was often—he camouflaged it as an unspoken request. He was sure the others there knew the subject of his unspoken request, but they couldn’t be positive. 1977 Rhea Come Pray with Me 36 : Had there been general church family prayer meetings at the time, I would probably have made an unspoken prayer request. Within the small prayer group, however, I was able to open up and share something of my deep need with the others. 1981 Graham Katie 130 : In prayer meetings he often mentioned an “unspoken request,” but Katie knew it was about his getting married. 1987 Klein Growing Up Born Again 57 : Unspoken request: For those times when you have a situation that requires prayer but is at the same time too personal for public disclosure. For example, say you put a dent in your father’s car. 1989 Nelson The Last Year of the War 94 : Sometimes in Women’s Fellowship after dinner girls stood and asked for prayer for an “unspoken request,” which meant it was confidential. 1993 The Door iss. 127–138 69 : In the meantime, have a look for yourself. The goofiest prayer request is, “I have an unspoken prayer request.” The reason that this is the goofiest is because the minute one utters the request, it is no longer “unspoken” but “spoken.” 1993 Nolan, Sarrett I’m So Tired of Other People 128 : All unspoken prayer requests are assumed to concern something sexual. At church, you must remember that “a little black book” refers to a pocket Bible. 1997 Farlow-Schlerf Blow the Trumpets, Loudly! 378 : They requested specific prayer support for strength and faith, from not only the pastor, Ron, and his wife Nancy, but also what was called an “unspoken prayer request” (anonymous) to be supported by the congregation in general. 1998 Stearns, Lewis An Emotional Hist. of the U.S. 226 : Not all requests for prayer [received during the early 1940s] were as detailed as those I have cited thus far. Quite a few women wrote to ask for prayer simply for “special unspoken requests” or “urgent unspoken requests.” 2001a Palau, Yorkey It’s a God Thing 125 : At the close of the session, the speaker asked those with prayer requests to stand. Peggie had a sinus problem, but most of all, a “special unspoken need.” … Joe quietly prayed for Peggie, not knowing the personal nature of her “need.” 2001b Van Hook Spirituality Within Religious Traditions in Social Work Practice 201 : Baptists who would like for others to pray for them, but who do not want to reveal their problem or dilemma, can announce state to the community that they have an “unspoken request” for prayer. This means that the community will pray that God will aid the person with his or her need, but the nature of the problem remains confidential. 2002 Jantz The Church-Case Scenario 44 : You are so familiar with the other people in the church that you know everyone’s “unspoken” prayer requests. 2004 Jackson Singing in My Soul: Black Gospel Music in a Secular Age 35 : Maybe somebody else says, “I have a special unspoken request.” 2005 Wiersbe Prayer 101 24 : I had never heard anyone say, “I have an unspoken request,” until I began to minister in the Southland, where I discovered that it was a common practice. 2007 Larkin Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood 24 : Gripping the pew in front of me and rising halfway to my feet, I said in a strangled voice, “I have an unspoken request.” I had heard that expression hundreds of times in my life. 2007 Cobia The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Evangelical Christianity 000 : You might be an Evangelical if … you know what to do when someone shares an “unspoken” prayer request. 2009 Thornton Brilliant Disguises 83 : I gave that most tantalizing of all petitions for my fellow penitent listeners in the room to chew upon. “I have an unspoken request,” I said, leaving it at that. I could hear their ears perk up all over the room. A job offer? Private stress? Premonition of getting fired? Counseling? They all could audibly telegraph their questions through their silence. 2010 Brant Finding True Freedom 78 : At weekly Young Life Bible studies, I submitted more “unspoken” prayer requests, meaning I couldn’t give them details of what was keeping me awake nights.