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?”