In Defense of a Messy, Awkward, Slightly Heretical Prayer Life

December 5, 2016

This last year of my life has been messy.  Full of sin and sickness, despair and brokenness.
And at some point in all that mess, I remembered how to pray.

The first time I prayed, really prayed, I was 16 and bleeding from a self inflicted wound. I wanted to die, but I didn't want to want to die. I begged this God I'd seen move in other peoples lives, this God they spoke of with such warmth and familiarity at the soup kitchen I frequented, to do something. Stop the bleeding, just until I get to the hospital. And He did. The bleeding stopped until I reached the hospital emergency lot, where it started again. The maker of the universe had heard my prayer.

Or maybe my first prayer goes back further. As a little girl with almost no knowledge of God, confusing prayers with wishes but knowing for sure that I needed something outside of myself. My brother, homeless and addicted to drugs, was missing again. I sat at my bedroom window, in that dusty pink room with the teddy bear border, and watched for the first star of the night. "I wish I may, I wish I might, Have him home safe tonight." God answered that one too.

I was 20 when I prayed to meet my husband, although I didn't know that was what I was doing. I was huddled in the alcove of a closed shop, homeless and trying to stay dry from the rain, lamenting that I couldn't believe that God could love me, that anyone could love me. "Lord," I asked "Send me someone to help me believe that I am lovable."  I met my husband a week later. Married him 6 months after that.

But at some point my prayers became safe and sanitized. I learned more about what faith was supposed to look like and I became afraid to pray from a place of any real need. I asked God to bless this and that, to help me, to show me his will. But I stopped falling on my knees and crying out in desperate need to the God that knew my heart.

This past year when the bible felt dry and empty, the psalms are where I quenched my thirst.  The psalms are full of messy, awkward, slightly heretical prayers. Prayers that question God, Prayers that are full of pain and fear. Some of them turn around by the end, into praises of God's faithfulness. Some of them don't.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
Psalm 6:2,3
Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Psalm 10:1
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Psalm 13:1,2
This year I learned to stop being polite with God. He is not our mothers before a dinner party, licking his cosmic thumb to wipe the dirt from our cheek, scolding us for forgetting our manners. He knows our every thought, every emotion, every anxiety that we've tried to swallow below the surface, every bit of resentment towards others and us and Him. And He beckons us to come.  Come messy, come awkward, come with our doubts and our brokenness and our pain.
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Habakkuk 1:2,3
These prayers make me a bit uncomfortable.  All the "Why God's" and "Where are you God's".  Who am I to question the almighty? To judge His timing? Aren't these a little heretical?  A little indecent?  But these prayers are honest and true and vulnerable.  And can't the maker of the universe handle the most complex truths of my simple finite heart?

God desires all of me. The good and the bad. The love of our God is deep and perfect and freeing, He beckons us to pull back the curtain and put down our masks, to be our most authentic selves before Him.

Sometimes our most honest and authentic need before the Lord is desperate and impatient and less-than-pretty.  And the unfettered intimacy that we crave with Him lies on the other side of our Sunday Best version of ourselves. 

Like the Father who asked Jesus to help his son "if you can."
"If I can?" says Jesus. "Everything is possible to those who believe." This father didn't hide his doubt.   He doesn't back peddle or try to intellectualize his own unfaithfulness.  How could he, before the Lord? No, he confessed his doubt and pleaded for help.
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Sometimes the most honest prayer I have is "Damnit God, why?"

or "How much longer, God?"

or "Help, Somehow, if you can."

or "I believe, help my unbelief."

One day, friends, we will be sing-songy with endless praise; when God has made us whole and we stand in Him.  But for now our prayers are sloppy and muttered and sometimes R-rated, as we carry these bodies of death through the trials of a grief stricken world.

He knows.  Our every thought, our every fear, our every weakness, doubt and hurt.  And He beckons us to Come, to approach His throne boldly.  Not when we have it figured out, not when we've strung together the right eloquent words, not when we have cleaned ourselves up to appear good and godly, but in our time of need.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:13-16
May we speak freely today with the God who knows our hearts, who comprehends the depths of our doubt and despair, and loves us anyways.   And someday, from that place of authentic need, and honest despair, we will come to a place of deep, authentic, intimate praise.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Psalm 40: 1-3



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2 comments

  1. I really love this Kelly.
    I really love you. Your words, your honesty, your hope.
    God has given you this ability to write about the things that absolutely suck, and make others feel a little less alone.
    You are amazing, beautiful, powerful and valuable.
    keep writting- the world needs it.

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    Replies
    1. Elissa,
      These kind words are such an encouragement to me today. Thank you for that.

      Blessings,
      Kelly

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