This morning, I’ve read on a good few chapters…..early on in my reading, a phrase stood out and yet I kept reading on….and now almost an hour later, I’ve come back to that phrase.
‘When the worst happens—whether war or flood or disease or famine—and we take our place before this Temple (we know you are personally present in this place!) and pray out our pain and trouble, we know that you will listen and give victory.’ 2 Chronicles 20:9
The phrase is ‘pray out our pain and trouble’. It reminds me of a talk I went to at Greenbelt by John Bell of the Iona Community on ‘a vocabulary for pain’. How the Jewish and Christian tradition have a vocabulary for pain in their Scriptures that is found in no other religion. The Psalms in particular give us words that can be prayed when we have no words – when we are ‘walking through the valley of the shadow of death’, when we feel surrounded by enemies on all sides, when we’re stuck in the slimy pit drowning in the mud and mire of despair…..
I attended a Bishop’s Faith and Life course a good few years ago and I remember one of the tutors using the phrase ‘pray naked’. Which stuck in my mind for obvious visual reasons. What he meant was that we should feel able to come before God just as we are – really, just as we are. Completely honest. Completely raw. Angry. Bitter. Heartbroken. Desperate. Whatever. God can handle it. He really can.
It’s so very hard to make ourselves this vulnerable though, isn’t it? To trust that we won’t be rejected or judged of hurt further. To believe that we won’t offend God.
I have a friend who occasionally goes very quiet on me. That’s when I know something is very wrong. Not between us, but in her world. Even though we are very close, she won’t let me near her when she’s in the middle of something. She can talk about it afterwards, but not during. She cannot allow herself to become that vulnerable, to be seen that ‘naked’.
That’s fine. That’s her way.
That’s how I often am with God I think. I shy away from being completely honest with God for some reason. Really baring my soul before God feels like the ultimate in vulnerability and I’m not sure I trust Him enough to be able to handle it (sounds stupid I know – He is the God of the universe after all).
Finding a vocabulary for our pain is a struggle. How can words express…….?
Coming before God just as we are. Flaws and all. Not when we’re sorted but now.
No. Come now. Just as you are. Come now and learn with us. Come now and let us support you and encourage you. Come now and let us run alongside you.
Maybe I didn’t want to write on this, because I am pretty rubbish at it myself. Rationally now, from a relatively stable emotional place, I can see how important it is and how potentially freeing it could be to find a vocabulary for my pain, but when I’m in it and experiencing it, I close up, I fold up around my pain, I protect myself by internalising and not letting anyone see, especially God. I don’t even know how to cry.
So this is me challenging myself to learn how to pray naked. If you have any tips for me, let me know.