As my kids are all under the age of 10, honesty isn’t at a deficit in our house. My three-year-old may occasionally fib about eating an extra piece of candy or breaking his brother’s Legos, but for the most part, my children tell me exactly what happened. I realize teenagers are more prone to deception or silence, but when my kids experience an emotion, I feel the full weight of it. My five-year-old may storm off in rage, “I hate you!” or my daughter sometimes laments, “It’s so unfair. I don’t like doing that. Why are you making me […finish math homework, do chores, etc.]?” In one breath, I’ll receive candid scorn and one hour later, I’ll hear, “You are the best mom ever!” We ride the emotional hurricanes around here.
Not too long ago, adults used a phrase over children: they should be seen and not heard. Consequently, the majority of that generation grew up compliant, yes, but more fearful of their parents. Adults were to be respected and obeyed but relationships between most Builders and Boomers were strained or shallow. A level of vulnerability or frankness wasn’t permitted. Of course, thankfully, exceptions always rise to the surface.
Some children grow up feeling as if they can only express to their parents that which is fully respectful and happy. In other words, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. We can carry this attitude over into our relationship with God, and think, “Well, I’m feeling frustrated and doubtful and even a little upset with God, so I guess I had better avoid praying today.” Or we talk to God, but we don’t disclose what’s truly in our hearts. We treat him like an acquaintance instead of a soul mate: fine, fine, everything’s fine.
Our eternal Parent doesn’t take this mentality toward interaction with His children. God, being infinitely knowing and wise, comprehends that which we haven’t even fully identified or articulated. He understands our emotions–fear, distress, rage, and joy. The beauty of His character allows Him to know us and accept us, in spite of where we may be in emotional turmoil.
Obviously, God already knows the deep waters. The questions, feelings, and frustrations never remain secretive to Him. So, why bother telling Him? If it isn’t pleasant to hear, how is it helpful to speak? We get our answer from the Psalms. David, a man after God’s own heart, road some major emotional waves. Yet, in the midst of those tumultuous times, he didn’t ignore God. He asked, he lamented, he moaned, he doubted, he raged with frustration. And remarkably, God didn’t smite David. Despite what we may think, God can handle all of our emotions: even more, He invites us into a conversation of raw truth-telling and exposure. Turning it all inside-out doesn’t unnerve Him, but it does draw us into a place where we find the intimate and gracious heart of a Father who cares.
Full prayer–full worship–involves all of me, not just the parts I’ve carefully mastered and tidied. We can’t sacrifice fragments of ourselves; our entire being must be placed on the alter before Him if we are ever going to go deeper. C.S. Lewis said that “We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”
In his book, Prayer:Does it Make Any Difference, Philip Yancey states God's invitation this way: "Apparently God is the kind of friend who rewards honesty, for why else would the Bible include the more plaintive psalms. Jesus himself turned to them at a moment when he felt betrayed. 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' [...] Jeremiah griping about unfairness; Job conceding 'What profit should we have, if we pray unto him?' Habakkuk accusing God of deafness.The Bible schools us to pray with blistering honesty" (Yancey 66).
When I hang out with my closest girlfriends, we volley this question: How are you doing–really doing? And we really want to know; whether our frame of mind is pretty or putrid, we rest in the deep security of friendship that says, “it’s okay to be really real with me. I don’t want to just know part of you; I want to know the whole of you.”
God speaks the same assurance over us: bond with me, commune with me, sit with me…even if you are miserable, anxious, doubtful, or mad. When we pray, we bring our everything to Him and say, “here I am. I’m messy and unsure, but I’m here with You.”
As Henri Nouwen puts it, “A human being is not someone who once in a while makes a mistake, and God is not someone who now and then forgives. No, human beings are sinners and God is love.”
Bringing my honest to God allows me to know that I am forever His, no matter what.