Can I Really Tell God How I Feel?

sad mother comforts child - photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision/Getty Images

I was talking with a friend the other day, and she said, “I am so sad and angry and disappointed that I just can’t pray! I feel too much negativity right now. I’ve got to get myself together before I can pray again.”

The situation my friend is dealing with is difficult. I understand that she would have strong emotions about it. Her words, “I’ve got to get myself together before I can pray again,” hung in my ears and brought to mind several Gospel passages.

I thought of Mary Magdalene weeping at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning (John 20:11–18). Not knowing that she was speaking to Jesus, she told him she was looking for him. Jesus listened and then revealed himself to her in her sadness.

And I remembered the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). Like Mary, they did not know that they were speaking with Jesus. They related to him how sad and disappointed they were about Jesus and his Crucifixion and their disbelief that he had been resurrected. He listened, stayed with them, and then revealed himself to them as he broke bread.

Jesus drew near to Mary Magdalene and to the Emmaus disciples in their grief, disappointment, and disbelief. In fact, he was near to them before they even expressed these emotions to him. When they expressed how they honestly felt, Christ revealed his presence.

Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus present when things are messy. He deals with the nitty-gritty of daily life; he doesn’t wait until everyone is cool, calm, and collected. Jesus is especially present when there is suffering. And he is not put off by his friends even when they confront him. After her brother Lazarus had died, Mary fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32) The phrasing of Mary’s statement implies disappointment, if not anger, that Jesus was not there when they needed him. In response, Jesus cries with her. His response is authentic and real. Not only does Jesus respond with compassion to her honest entreaty, but he also performs what is now one of the most famous miracles when he raises Lazarus from the dead.

In his book, Praying the Truth, Fr. William Barry writes, “In my experience, people who can tell God their sadness and distress usually sense that God is listening with compassion and understanding.” (46) In fact, he argues, honesty in prayer is absolutely essential if one is to develop a deeper relationship with God.

Pope Francis also affirms that we can express our sadness, disappointment, and anger to God:

Many times I have heard people say to me: “You know, this happened to me and I became very angry with God” — “You had the courage to be angry at God?” — “Yes, I got angry” — “But this is a form of prayer”. Because only a son or daughter is capable of being angry at their dad and then encounter him again. Let us learn from Abraham to pray with faith, to dialogue and to argue, but always willing to accept the Word of God and to put it into practice. With God, let us learn to speak like a child with his dad: to listen to him, to reply, to argue. But transparent like a child with his dad. This is how Abraham teaches us to pray. (General Audience, 3 June 2020)

It can be tempting to judge the “worthiness” of our emotions before we pray about them, but expressing our feelings honestly will lead to a more authentic relationship with God. Lay it all out—and then trust God to be God.


You might like to pray with the following Lunchtime Examen that asks, “What does the Examen have to do with being honest with God?”

14 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Rebecca for these meaningful insights. Regarding prayer thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: “Prayer is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

  2. Rebecca. Messy leaves us disconnected. But sometimes in the mess, we find a little nugget in that hidden corner – and we come to realize that God is drawing us closer to that nugget. He was with us all along. We just needed to find Him. Check your corners.

    I pray you are well, my friend. Annefte

  3. Your father knows what you need before you ask
    So it’s trust
    Being able to lay it all down and look at things with Him to trust that He will help us see things with His vision
    Thanks for this today Rebecca

    • Hi Mags,
      Yes, it’s all about trust, isn’t it? Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.
      Peace,
      Rebecca

  4. God knows how you feel : HE knows everything, so He knows you are sad , Angry or whatever. That is what I was taught to believe. I hope I have not been mis-lead! He knows you are Angry, so ask for His help! I am very sad and Find it hard to pray normally at times So I just offer my day to Him with all it’s difficulties and hopefully, some speck of Joy! A.M.D.G.

    • Meg,
      Yes, God always knows where we are at. What a wonderful practice of offering your day to Him! AMDG!
      Peace,
      Rebecca

  5. Thank you Rebecca. this was helpful in that I’m in he midst of this sort of thing now.

    The end of your reflection reminded me that children and teens need to be able to use their parents to express their anger and jealousy and frustration and depression etc. while knowing that the parent will survive the onslaught and not retaliate. Rather the parent helps a child to manage these powerful emotions and come through them themselves. The child is communicating their sense of being overwhelmed and hopes the parent will help them even as they quite possibly attack them verbally. And so yelling at God gets us to an honest place at least, as you note.

  6. Such a true reflection. I think Jesus is more in the messy than the clean, good thing for us. Also, I think it’s ironic(?) not to pray when upset, stressed, angry, considering God is Omniscient He already knows what’s going on with us, we can’t hide it so why not share it, ultimately it’s more (helpful) for us, He already knows everything that has happened, will happen and what we need.

    • CS,
      Thank you for sharing. Yes, we can certainly be grateful that Jesus is there when things are messy because, really, how often is life totally neat and tidy! 🙂
      Peace,
      Rebecca

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