No, that's not a typo. When I was at Bob Jones University, I learned how to pray poker.
In January, my fiance taught me how to play a simple game of poker. Just recently, my brain realized how similar a game was to the nightly prayer groups at BJU.
BJU is a fundamentalist university where giving prayer requests is the way to get the best gossip. Each night, except for Saturdays, the students gathered at 10:30 (and yes, there were two bells to tell you when it was and when you were late) to pray together. There's really nothing wrong with that, except for the whole bell thing, and it was a really good way to get to know people on your residence hall, because there would always be a lot of socialization. It was also a good way of uplifting your fellow students.
But, especially in a place like BJU, human nature prevails hard. People love to hear themselves talk, even the shy little missionary kid from Brazil (who speaks no Portuguese, oddly.) And we, as the human race, are fascinated with gruesome stories.
Here's how it starts.
Imagine you're hanging out with your friends, and you start telling them a story about this massive papercut you got from a book jacket once. (That actually happened to me when I worked at BAM. It hurts more than you'd think.) For some reason, the papercut story seems to give others both permission and fuel to share their numerous injury stories. It will escalate, usually with "well, I sawed my finger open while peeling a mango." (That happened to me too. By the way, I also used to play Monopoly alone.) Then a third friend will share the time he was running and tripped and gashed his knee open on a rock and needed like 58 stitches. Eventually it comes to a point where someone gets distracted and the conversation turns to other things that don't belong in any of the Saw films.
The same thing happens in prayer group at BJU, and I am not kidding. It's tweaked a little, though.
Let's just say I had, like five papers due in a week. (It was actually possible during my studies, as one semester I took 20 hours.) In prayer group, I'd say something like "I'm feeling kinda tired this week and I have a ton of projects coming due, so just I'd appreciate some prayer." Simple, right?
So the next prayer request would be a little worse. "My allergies are really acting up, and I can't see and it's driving me crazy, and I have projects due too."
And that's where the poker part came in.
Because the next one would be something along the lines of "I see your allergies, and I raise you the flu, plus my gramma has a cold."
And the next one. "Flu? Yeah, I've been really struggling with accepting God's will in my bronchitis this week. It's just...so hard..."
Each prayer group averaged about 12 people, so you can imagine how long this would go on, and people would really stretch, with things like my best friend's down the street neighbor might have skin cancer, because cancer wins points in the contest. Eventually, it'll get to "my dad's fifth cousin had his face chewed off in Miami, so just pray for him."
I finally figured out this game in the spring semester of 2009. It was my return to school after taking a semester off and working at BAM. One night, I was in prayer group after a phone conversation with my mom. Some friends of my brother had been in a pretty bad car accident, and one of them was airlifted to a trauma center with, among other injuries, a fractured skull and a ruptured spleen. My brother was pretty upset, according to my mom. The guys in the accident did end up okay, but that night, it was a major thing.
So after the obligatory requests about projects and allergies and struggling with stuff, it was my turn.
I mentioned the guy who'd been badly injured, making note of the ruptured spleen, because it is a serious, very traumatic injury.
Everyone in the room, seriously, went "Ewwwww."
You really would think I'd just eaten a booger in front of them.
But I was the last to give a prayer request.
I won the game with the mention of a ruptured spleen.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you pray poker at Bob Jones University.