Sometimes my prayers are ugly—uglier than the ugliest ugly cry you can imagine. Because sometimes I’m a mess. Sometimes I’m overcome with rage or filled with tension or shaken by tragedy. Sometimes I’m just not in worshipful-prayer shape. In fact, sometimes I’m such a mess that I’m not sure I can pray at all.
Thankfully, God, in his grace, accepts us in our brokenness. God welcomes my ugly prayers—and yours too. Scripture is full of examples of raw, honest prayer that was anything but sanitized and exemplary. Have you ever prayed like this?
• “God, don’t you see?!” Have you ever wondered why God hasn’t stepped in to rescue you from ongoing struggles? “O LORD, why do you stand so far away?” the psalmist prayed. “Why do you hide when I am in trouble? . . . Do not ignore the helpless!” (Psalm 10:1, 12).
• “I am so ashamed.” We may be burdened by shame over personal failures or the wrongs we see in our community. “Wash me clean from my guilt,” David prayed. “It haunts me day and night” (Psalm 51:2, 3). And Daniel prayed on behalf of his people, “Our faces are covered in shame” (Daniel 9:7).
• “I’m so angry!” When injustice infuriates us, we may come to God in rage. Consider what may be the ugliest prayer in all of Scripture: “Happy is the one who pays you [Babylon] back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!” (Psalm 137:8–9).
• “I wish I were dead.” “I have had enough, LORD,” Elijah prayed in 1 Kings 19:4. “Take my life.” Another biblical prayer ends by saying simply, “Darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88:18). Even when everything in you just wants to give up and life feels utterly hopeless, you can turn to God in your desolation.
I think prayer is both the simplest and most difficult of the spiritual disciplines. It’s simple because it’s what our souls need and are naturally drawn toward: communion between creature and Creator. Yet it can be difficult when we’re too distracted, when we lack the will to pray, when we’re unable to muster up any words of our own, when it seems God isn’t answering our desperate pleas.
Are you wondering why God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers? Read this issue’s cover story in which Diana Stone reflects on how tragedy redefined her understanding of prayer. Struggling to find the words to pray? Consider Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence’s exploration of the value we can find in praying the words of others. Stuck in a rut? Dive into Joy Beth Smith’s collection of creative prayer ideas.
We may come to prayer worshiping or wordless, full of gratitude or ugliness. But whatever shape we come in, God welcomes us.