Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Oftentimes, when I read the Psalms, I come across the humbling, heart-wrenching candor of the psalmists and… I think of how much they reek of middle-school angst. You just know that David wrote some of these locked in his bedroom, blaring Evanescence through his Walkman.
Though the psalms are technically songs, albeit historical songs often imparting wisdom and knowledge didactically about God, I find reading them to be deeply introspective and vulnerable. As far as songs go, the Psalms read less like Billboard Top 100, and more like profoundly personal prayers from a middle-school diary (and some churches promote this idea of “praying the Psalms”).
Some of these psalms, as in the passages above, depict a psalmist in profound doubt and distress, which appears to undermine some of the seemingly indomitable faith and hope of other psalms. But why include this doubt in scripture? Why depict David (or the Psalmists) in varying states of worry, despair, and distress?
One of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer begins with a description of the phenomenon of why we pray things to God that God already knows but then concludes with the significance of a vulnerable kind of prayer life.
“To confess our sins before God is certainly to tell Him what He knows much better than we. And also, any petition is a kind of telling. If it does not strictly exclude the belief that God knows our need, it at least seems to solicit His attention… As if, though God does not need to be informed, He does need, and even rather frequently, to be reminded. But we cannot really believe that degrees of attention…something like forgetfulness, exist in the Absolute Mind… What, then, are we really doing? We are always completely, and therefore equally, known to God. That is our destiny whether we like it or not. But through this knowledge never varies, the quality of our being known can. When we… assent with all our will to be so known, then we treat ourselves, in relation to God, not as things but as persons. We have unveiled. Not that any veil could have baffled this sight. The change is in us. The passive changes to active. Instead of merely being known, we show, we tell, we offer ourselves to view.”
The measure of our prayer is how much we are willing to unveil to God. The change is not in God’s knowledge of the individual who prays, but in the willingness of the individual to accept introspection and to share the resulting vulnerability with God. To that end, David has bared his soul in these Psalms; he prays with an unfettered honesty and openness with God that I admire.
For much of my life, I assumed that all prayer required was to tell God how I felt in a given moment. I would shove a dirty laundry basket of requests and imminent concerns in front of God; He can sort through the mess and clean it. For me, I can almost hear God’s response to my dirty laundry dumping form of prayer, “I see and know everything that’s here. I see and know what needs to be cleaned. Do you?”
I’ll give you an example.
Not unlike most people, for a long time, I thought I wanted to get married someday. It wasn’t untrue. God does want those sorts of prayers.
However, it took me a long time to realize that there were more entrenched fears tangled up in that desire. I was afraid that I would have to live my life alone. I was afraid that singleness would confirm childhood apprehensions that I was ugly and undesirable. I was afraid that I would never be as happy as other people. I was afraid that these sorts of concerns and fears made me less of a man. And I despaired. Boy, did I lose hope.
God wants those sorts of prayers too.
While God already knows the innermost chambers of your heart, in my experience, God is not interested in being your NSA surveillance or your Facebook stalker from a distance. As C.S. Lewis explains, and as David demonstrates in the above passages, God wants us to become more vulnerable with Him about our interior life.
God wants us to unveil.
So now what?
Here are a few steps that might be helpful toward more vulnerable prayers.
- Reflect and take time for introspection: Reserving quiet times to probe your own heart. Be willing to ask yourself questions. Be more attentive to your own motivations and where they might stem from.
- Be more open with someone else: Take the risk to be more open with people. Whether it’s family members, friends, or significant others. Be strong and courageous and trust that they can guard what’s most precious to you.
- Pray with someone else: I’m applying the same logic from 1 John 4:20. If you cannot be vulnerable and share with people whom you can see, it will be that much harder to share with a God you cannot see.
- One of my favorite stories about prayer: A reporter once questioned Mother Theresa about her prayer life, and the conversation went something like this:
Interviewer: “When you pray, what do you say to God?”
Mother Theresa: “I don’t talk, I listen.”
Interviewer: “Ah, what is it that God says to you when you pray?”
Mother Theresa: “He doesn’t talk, He listens.”