We would all pray more if we grew more comfortable with praying honestly. Our discomfort with the truth causes us to avoid prayer.
Honesty about emotions. Do we pray when we’re angry at somebody? Many of us perceive that anger is not an acceptable emotion, so we must get over anger (or fear or other “bad” emotions) before daring to approach God. But God gave us the range of emotions because real life requires them. Consider the Book of Psalms. Every emotion shows up: joy, thanksgiving, hope, longing, anger, vindictiveness, resentment, self-pity, and envy. We can follow the psalmists’ example and take every emotion to prayer, where we can receive help in the midst of experience.
Honesty about thoughts. Then there’s “what I really think.” Perhaps I say to God that I want to be part of this world’s healing. But maybe I really think that a lot of people are in trouble because they messed up—and they need to learn and be accountable for their actions. I really think that mercy is best used on “true” victims who are innocent of any wrongdoing or bad decisions. So, if I’m honest with God, my prayer would be, “I’m not really on board with helping certain people. Remind me that they, too, are your beloved and that it’s not my place to judge. I’m willing to grow more willing to live out your mercy in the world—but I’m not there yet.”
Honesty about assumptions. Many of us still assume the virtue of tough individualism. I should be able to solve my own problems and reach my goals, if I just work hard. We also believe the myth that a Christian should always feel good and have a satisfying day. In that case, feeling bad, struggling, and failing indicate that God is not with me or does not approve of what I’m doing. In short, we have rejected the truth that God’s people suffer—never mind the long history of suffering among God’s faithful, whether in the days of ancient Israel or in the lives of saints past and present. Thus, when we suffer, struggle, or fail, we might feel that God has not held up the divine end of the bargain. We stop praying, because we’re angry at God and resentful at how things are going.
Honesty about self-awareness. It’s amazing what a few moments’ reflection can do for honest prayer. My head is swirling with plans and worries and hopes and responsibilities. I try to settle into prayer, but it’s nearly impossible. So I allow all those busy thoughts to float out from me, and I look at myself prayerfully. If I’m honest about what I see, my prayer might sound like this:
“Heavenly Father, I feel so needy today. I’m going to sit here (or curl up on my bed) and let your love hold me for a while.”
“Lord, I need a good talk with a friend for some human company while I go through this. Help me connect with [name] in the next day or two. I know you don’t expect me to operate solo all the time.”
“Jesus, let’s talk about all the things that bring me joy today. That would encourage me.”
If prayer has become difficult, assess your emotions, thoughts, and assumptions. Then most importantly, make this self-aware assessment the prayer.
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