It is hard not to hear our cries of sorrow and prayers of lament. Our world and all in it are groaning. I feel like I see and hear suffering around me everywhere I turn. A question I get asked often in spiritual direction and retreat ministry is, “How do I pray through sorrow and suffering?” Let’s take a look at some practical ways we can turn to God in prayer in times like these.
1. Acknowledge that sorrow is a grace.
It is hard to experience and hold sorrow. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t always feel like a grace. What I’ve learned from experiencing sorrow is that it is often an experience of seeing the world as God sees it. It brings us to a place of empathy and a deep seeing of our own pain or others’ pain. Jesus felt sorrow as he looked with pity and wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44). Mary felt sorrow as she watched her son’s pain. Our sorrow is a grace as our hearts are connecting to an experience Christ had.
2. Name the real.
God sees us with a loving, compassionate gaze. Call to mind God lovingly looking at us and inviting us to name honestly what we feel, see, and hear. Praying through sorrow starts with naming the real of our lives and invites God into the sorrow we are holding. As we bring the real of our lives to God, we let our wounds and the suffering we see connect with the wounds Jesus experienced. Our vulnerability to God invites God to enter fully and hold the real with us.
3. Show up in prayer.
It is very easy to feel tempted not to show up in prayer when we are feeling sorrow. It can feel too painful to acknowledge what we are facing. We may want to turn away from it and resist talking to God about it. Even if our prayer feels messy, showing up and bringing all we are feeling to God helps us work through our sorrow.
4. Pray with the triple colloquy.
The triple colloquy is my go-to prayer method when I experience sorrow. This prayer tool is offered to us during the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, when we are asking for the grace of sorrow about our sins. It invites us not only to name the real, but it also invites us to bring what we are naming to Mary, to Jesus, and to God the Father. Maybe I am feeling sorrow about a loved one who is pain or suffering. I bring this person first to Mary and offer my prayers. Then I bring this person to Jesus and finally before God the Father. As I have honest conversations with each one of them, I ask, “What ought I do for Christ?”
5. Allow our sorrow to be turned into action.
Engaging God in our sorrow opens us to transformation. As we ask, “What ought I do for Christ?” God inspires small and sometimes larger actions we can take. Our prayer and being with God inform our actions.
One last thing for us to remember: When we feel sorrow, we can still be in consolation. Consolation is when we are aligned with the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives. I really like how Mark Thibodeaux, SJ, in his book, Ignatian Discernment of Spirits for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Care, calls some experiences of feeling sorrow “difficult consolation.” As time goes on, I take comfort in knowing that even when I feel sorrow, God is with me, and I can still be with God. I hope that provides you comfort as well.