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.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels.
It’s lovely to get permission to pray in this way. It makes so much sense. Thanks.
Perhaps I am somehow related to St Francis of Assisi, or because I have been a countrywoman most of my life –
attuned to nature. Living now in Arundel, a town, my way of ‘staying in’ the countryside is to have flowers on every windowsill. As I look round at them, perhaps angry or upset or confused, they have a calming effect. Not only that, but I TALK to them! As I throw each bunch away, I say out loud “thank you for giving me such pleasure”.
In fact, I am thanking God, who created nature and all things in it.
Thanks Vinita. We are pilgrims on a brief journey. Knowing fully well that time is running out for us, we may tend to scold God for loading us with all types of emotions. Good old Ignatius has left priceless tools for combatants to conquer every challenging peak.
Thank you! This is so encouraging. I do feel it is difficult to pray when experiencing certain emotions. Thank you for the encouragement to express these in prayer.
The opening “Honesty about emotions” in relation to anger, totally resonated with me and was spot on.
When I have felt anger and then gone to say evening prayers, I have felt “unworthy” to approach God, as if I have to wait until the anger has gone, or that I should pray for the person who has made me angry but then I realize that I would not be being true to myself at that time and as God knows us as we are, I just tell God I can’t pray for that person at that particular time and also realize that if I say to God, ” I cannot pray” that that, in itself is a prayer.
Thank you for this very helpful reminder.
Vinita: I, too have my heart to hearts with God – but I never thought of labeling them. What a phenomenal idea, even though God knows the emotion I am feeling, sometimes even I don’t know what it is. Thank you
Thank you ! Needed this today so much .
What a wonderful and practical encouragement on how to persevere in prayer! And thank you Vinita for the examples of how our prayers might look when we are feeling less than “holy”…so very helpful! I am saving this post and will refer to it often!
This is so perfect! All that you have written is everything I needed to read today. I thought I prayed well, and always try to be focused and grateful. But, I am often so distracted by so many thoughts running around inside and outside of my head! I now have a great template; I can ease up on myself and not worry if I’m praying the “right” way. Thank you for your words!