Godtalk: Honest to God in Prayer

Published on 05 Mar 2015
Man with outstretched arms

'O Lord, you have searched me and known me' says Psalm 139. Let­ting God come to know us is essential, as it is in any relation­ship. Letting yourself be known by God means more or less what it means in any friendship: speaking about your life, sharing your feelings, and revealing yourself openly.

When we're not honest in a re­lationship, usually the relationship begins to grow cold, distant, or formal. If we're avoiding something unpleasant, the relationship de­volves into one defined by nothing more than social niceties. Even­tually the relationship stagnates or dies.       

It's the same with prayer. If we are saying only what we think we should say to God, rather than what we want to say, then our relationship will grow cold, distant, and formal. Honesty in prayer, as in life, is important.

How can we be honest with God in prayer? One way is to imagine God right in front of us. We might imagine God sitting across from us in a chair, or sitting beside us on a couch, ­use whatever image feels most comfortable. Then speak in a familiar way, in silence or out loud, about our life.

Being honest with God means sharing everything with God, not just the things that we think are appropriate for prayer, and not simply our gratitude and praise. Honesty includes sharing things we might think inappropriate for conversation with God. Anger is a perfect example. It's natural to be angry with God over suffering in our lives. Disappointment springs from all of us. Anger is a sign that we're alive.

God can handle our anger.  God has been handling anger as long as humans have been praying. Just read the Book of Job in the Old Testament, where Job rails against God for causing his seemingly endless pain. Usually Job is seen as a pa­tient man, and in the beginning of that book he is. But eventually Job loses his patience and begins to curse the day he was born. That's a good prayer because it's honest.

Have you ever had the experience of confid­ing something to a friend and feeling relief?  Having been open with God, we will feel God can now better accompany us, as a good friend might.  

When it comes to prayer, the most inappropriate emotion, at least in many minds, is sexual desire. Good people often worry about their sexual feel­ings. They are embarrassed and ashamed of them. But sexuality and sexual activity are wonderful gifts from God to be celebrated.

On a natural level they draw people together for the sake of companionship and creating new life. On a spiritual level those feelings remind us of the love that God has for us. Many spiritual writers, as in The Song of Songs use erotic love as a metaphor for God's love for humanity.

But like any gift, sexuality must be used wisely. If motivated by selfishness, it can turn into a desire for possessiveness. On a much more benign level, sexual thoughts during prayer can also be a dis­traction.

So what do we do with those feelings in prayer? Instead of hiding these experiences, we should share them with God, and use them to remind us how great it is to be alive, how great it is to be a creature of God and how wondrously we are created. If that doesn't work, or if those feelings are troublesome because they are directed to a person with whom we cannot have a relationship, just be honest with God about your struggles.

Be honest with God about everything. 

Peter Knott SJ