“All things work together for good,” they said.
But what about when the evidence appears to prove that it doesn’t?
What about those nights when the fear creeps up the back of your throat, choking out your breath like bile?
What about those days when your heart aches and your stomach won’t release the knots and your fingers fumble even the most familiar tasks?
What about those times you sequester yourself in the shower, while the tears stream down your cheeks in waterfalls, and the sobs shake your body in convulsions… because that’s the only place your children won’t see you cry?
What about those dawns when dreams claw the edges of your consciousness and in that fearful twilight between wakefulness and sleep, you know in your soul it’s because the monsters in your world are real? Because your worst nightmares aren’t figments of imagination, but rather the battles against darkness that wait for you at sunrise…
What about those moments when you need answers but have none, and to avoid burdening the sweet faces who depend on you for security… you wear a smile even if your eyes are brimming with tears?
What about the seasons of life when you need to pray, when you want to pray… but there are simply no words to be found? Or maybe you have the words, but they are roiling around in your head with such frenzy that you can’t sensibly string them together and force them out of your mouth.
How do you pray then?
What do you say then?
Where do you turn now?
When You Need to Pray Most
It’s easy to conclude that because we are struggling to pray, it must mean God isn’t listening. That He’s absent, that He’s aloof…
It’s natural to feel abandoned when there’s no sign that suffering will go away any time soon. And yet, it is in these seasons that we can find the greatest comfort in prayer, if we will.
It is when we feel numb, wordless, muted by trauma and circumstance — that we need to pray the most. It is when we cannot find the words, that God connects with our spirit.
One survivor friend of mine described this season as “a one-way street, where God is doing all the work, because I simply can’t.” But the beautiful thing is that, when we find ourselves flat out and immobilized by grief, by abuse, by suffering in whatever form it has found us… God can and will step in and do the heavy lifting.
But only if you give Him permission.
In the mire of personal anguish, we often forget three crucial things:
- that divine silence does not equal divine absence,
- that suffering does not come from the heart of God,
- that the forces of evil are battling viciously to win.
God does not need our fancy words.
He does not demand coherence.
He does not even desire conversation.
In fact, He’s quite allergic to our human attempts at pretentious self-aggrandizement. He says so Himself:
Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.Isaiah 58:1-3, NLT
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
3‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’
In other words, God isn’t asking you to fake it. He isn’t impressed when we try to act like we have it all together. Sanctimonious pretense makes Him nauseated.
You Can’t Out-Feel God
There’s this myth that it’s not okay to get mad at God. As if somehow God can’t handle the spectrum of human emotion He Himself created. As though we somehow are more holy if we never ask questions and never seek answers. But tell me, who really makes it through a deep and authentic life without that? You can’t.
Besides, have you read the book of Job lately? Or Psalm 58? Or Psalm 73? Those are not the pompous outpourings of a self-righteous heart. They’re not the platitudes of a soul without trials. These are the turbulent tirades of men who were pillars of faith, and yet unafraid to pound their fists in God’s direction and wrestle through the pain, suffering and spiritual warfare.
David, Job, Isaiah, and others — they were okay with big feelings. With raw emotions. They were unafraid to sit with God and simmer in their anger and their agony. What’s more, they knew that even when they couldn’t speak, God got the message anyway. That’s what the Holy Spirit is for…
26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.Romans 8:26-27, NLT
For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for.
But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings
that cannot be expressed in words.
27 And the Father who knows all hearts
knows what the Spirit is saying,
for the Spirit pleads for us believers
in harmony with God’s own will.
You don’t need to be perfect.
You don’t need to have pretty words.
All you need is a willingness to be still.
To keep coming back to the presence of God long enough for the ice and the numbness to thaw.
To let Him interpret the groaning in your heart that rumbles too deep to form conscious thoughts.
To give Him permission to take those feelings and speak truth back into your soul and tell you what to pray and how to think.
To let yourself fall apart in His hands, knowing that He is big enough and strong enough to hold you, to heal you, to handle it.
And that’s perfectly okay.
Here’s What Helped Me Through
In my wordless seasons, I’ve found that listening music and scripture are wonderful ways to let my heart pray without speaking. Sometimes, the rawest prayers pour out after hearing the words of someone else.
When you can’t find the words yourself, it’s okay to sit in silence. It’s also okay to fill the space with someone else’s words if that helps.
One year, I spent months playing the encouraging albums from Scripture Lullabies on constant repeat. The gentle music of Michael Card’s lullabies were a favorite too. (See CDs at the end of the blog.)
I began journaling daily.
Somehow writing came easier than speaking, or sometimes even thinking, as odd as that may sound. Every morning I’d copy down verses that stood out to me, shifting them into first person, putting them in my own handwriting, reading them until the words swam on the page.
When I was unable to sleep, I wanted to fill my thoughts with God’s truth about me instead of the lies I’d been conditioned to believe during my years of abusive marriage of abuse. If I turned on the lights to read, then I’d never fall back asleep… I discovered that it was healing to record my favorite passages on my phone and listen to God’s word in my own voice.
This year, I created Meditations and Truth Statements. These playlists are passages of scripture set to soothing music, just long enough to help you drift off to sleep.
There’s even a few in Spanish, too!