Praying honestly: God can handle it

Ever feel like you can't be honest with God in prayer? I used to think it was sinful or immature to express negative feelings to God. I was afraid if I communicated hurt or frustration in my prayers, I would somehow diminish God’s power or disprove my trust in Him.

I used to think that emotions were worthless.

Since feelings don’t actually affect the reality of a situation, I didn’t see the point in paying attention to them. If I was angry, hurt, or worried by something, I would imagine my feelings being placed in a cardboard box and then standing on the tip of my toes, as high as I could reach, I’d push that box as far back on the shelf as possible. Then, I’d dust my hands off, take a few steps away from the shelves and glance up one more time to make sure I couldn’t see the cardboard box. Perfect. Out of sight out of mind. Then, after creating an elaborate visualization of literally compartmentalizing my feelings, I would concentrate on only the facts of the situation and try to convince myself that my feelings were unfounded.

Even more concerning, I had convinced myself that not even God was interested in the boxes upon boxes of shelved emotions I had accumulated over the years. In Jeremiah 17:9, the prophet declares,

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

If that’s true, if the heart is deceitful, beyond cure, and no one can understand it, it definitely seemed the safest place for all of my heart’s feelings was to be shelved in the dark recess of my mind. They must be boxed away so that no one would be bothered by them, especially God.  Perhaps you, too, are wired that way.

You’ve bought the lie that our feelings are pointless and God doesn’t care about them.

Or perhaps you’re afraid that communicating negative emotions will come across as complaining. You don’t want to share any other emotion with God except gratitude, trust, love, or joy. You think that by communicating to God what upsets or hurts you, you will only come across as ungrateful and untrusting.

Somewhere along the way, I believed the lie that it’s immature or sinful to have negative feelings.

I was afraid if I communicated hurt or frustration in my prayers, I would somehow diminish God’s power or disprove my trust in Him. Instead of praying honestly to my Savior, I learned to ignore the feelings, rehearse my trust in God, and focus on reminding myself of God’s faithfulness & trustworthiness.

While rehearsing our trust in God and reminding ourselves of His faithfulness in our lives are both great practices, ignoring your feelings and not communicating those feelings to God, is not. And it is certainly not what the shepherd boy turned king, David, modeled for us.

In Psalm 142:2-3, David proclaims, “I pour out my complaint before him, before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.”

Over and over, throughout the Psalms, we find David’s prayers saturated with emotions. David poured out his feelings of joy, gratitude, and love, but he also communicated fear (Psalm 22), feelings of doubt (Psalm 13), distrust in God’s plan (Psalm 10), and being completely overwhelmed (Psalm 6). Those passages are just the tip of the iceberg!

I don’t know about you, but that gives me great relief.

The man “after God’s own heart”, expressed hurt, frustration, even distrust to God in his own prayers.

Just take a quick look at Psalm 55. David has just experienced betrayal by his most trusted and closest friend. He begs for God to listen and answer him. He is restless in complaint. His heart is in anguish within him. He fears and trembles and horror has overwhelmed him.   David is completely broken and consumed with grief, and he pours out all of the emotions to God.

And how did God respond? By listening, by loving him, by continuing to protect him and provide for him.

God can handle our hurt, our pain, our disappointment, even our anger and complaints.

He already knows every pain and frustrated thought we are thinking.

In Psalm 56:8, David says, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll— are they not in your record?”

God knew every tear David cried and was intimately concerned.

I think that sharing our feelings of anger, doubt, or worry with our Creator is one of the most important things we can do.

We must come to Him with open hearts and minds, willing to honestly communicate our thoughts and feelings to Him.

If we look at David’s example in Psalm 55, we see David do four things. He begins by asking God to hear him, he confesses his hurt and grief, he asks for God to act, and he rehearses his trust in God. Towards the end of the Psalm, we see David transition from confessing his hurt to rehearsing his trust in God as he declares,

As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He rescues me unharmed…” (55:16-18a)

Then again, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken… But as for me, I trust in You.” (55:22, 23b)

Just as David reminded himself, he is calling you to join him. Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you. Communicating your fears, hurts, disappointments, allow you to validate your emotions and look to the Lord for comfort.

Beth Moore said it well, “Our feelings are worth sharing with God whether or not they accurately describe the truth.”

I so often doubted the truth of my feelings; I considered it a waste to pour them before God’s feet. But as David models for us, the only way we can find true help is by bringing all our hurt and pain to the foot of the cross.

This article was originally printed in LifeWay’s Parenting Teen Magazine (June 2013 issue). 

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