One of the benefits of being chronically unwell is that you have no energy for bullsh*t, and that seems to reflect well in one’s prayer life. There is no energy left to come up with theologically sound prayers that are flouncy in nature and well thought through. You just say what you mean and hope God can take it.
There’s something to be said for meeting God when everything is a bit sh*t.
I’m slightly obsessed with the fact that Jesus prayed a prayer that was theologically problematic. On the cross he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Back then people misunderstood it, and even now we consider it a theological problem. God promised to “never leave nor forsake” his people – surely that extends to his own Son? Some say God really did forsake Jesus at the cross and thereby ruptured the trinity in that moment, and this was necessary to bring us salvation. Others say Jesus was just crying what he honestly felt, even if it wasn’t true.
Either way, we do know he was quoting his prayer book, which we thankfully have access to as well. It’s called the book of Psalms. The one that Jesus quotes in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion is Psalm 22, and is attributed to king David, “a man after God’s own heart.” We know God never really forsook David, and yet he had the nerve to say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
I grew up super-Pentecostal. Prayer in my teenage years was about lengthy-proclamations that sounded amazing and were obnoxiously loud. Prayer always had to be positive and declarative and had to stir up the emotions. You had to “prophesy your promise” and DECLARE your healing, blah blah blah. When things were a bit sh*t, you had to side-step the fact that things were a bit sh*t and instead you simply had to DECLARE that they weren’t really sh*t and then by magic they would stop being a bit sh*t. Fake it till you make it, but Christian.
Well, since then I’ve started reading my Bible, and events in the Bible are sometimes a bit sh*t. A women gets raped by her brother. Another woman eats her own child in order to avoid starvation. The Son of God is tortured and then killed in the most horrendous way imaginable. It’s graphic. There is horror. There is torment. Some parts are deliberately written to shock the reader because the Bible is about real-life, and sometimes real-life is a bit sh*t.
And yet God somehow wants to associate himself with all the mess and the muck that our fallen world throws at us. The incarnation is all about how he identifies with the fragility of the human condition. It’s the exact opposite of what we expect from divinity.
Don’t get me wrong, I love liturgy. There is something amazing and beautiful about speaking out theological truths that have been well thought through and wrestled with for centuries. But there is also something good about praying honestly, and telling God how it really is, and not really worrying about it sounding great.
Right now, for the first time in my life, I am in a fragile condition and I do not feel God. I’ve been in far-worse turmoil before, but I always felt his presence then, which made it bearable. Some call this a “desert season.” I just call it sh*t.
And so, I am currently praying theologically problematic prayers that are a bit sh*t. I’m asking God where he is, even though I know that he’s supposed to be near. I’m telling him that my future feels hopeless, even though I know he has promised the opposite. I’m asking him the age-old question why, even though I know I’m supposed to lean not on my own understanding.
To be honest, I think he can take it. His shoulders are broad, and I don’t think he would want me to withhold from him what I really think and feel. If there is one thing we must always remember from the gospel, it’s that God desperately wants to be involved in our lives, and sometimes, this side of eternity, life is a bit sh*t.
So tell him about it. Go pray a sh*t prayer today.
I dare you.
More on praying with the Psalms, Tim Keller’s ‘My Rock and My Refuge‘ is good.
Prayer Tool from the 24-7 prayer movement: ‘How to Lament’
Lastly, I’ve watched this talk by the artist Charlie Mackesy about five times, and I’ve recently nicked one of his stories for a sermon. It’s basically about meeting God in human fragility and it’s brilliant.