The Solace of Uncomfortable Prayers
When someone is struggling with questions about the future, don't give them a trite answer. Give them something to pray.
During a mission trip in high school, I was distracted by a question that seemed all-important in my 16-year-old world. Where would I attend college? I worried about which schools to apply to, and whether I’d get in. If I was accepted into more than one, I dreaded having to make a decision. It was less of a big deal than I felt at the time, but it wasn’t inconsequential. Regardless, I was in knots over all the unknown headed my way.
One night a girl on my team handed me a yellow slip of paper. It had my name at the top, and a few Bible verses written beneath in tidy black ink. She handed similar notes to several people. I don’t know how she chose which verses to give me. Perhaps I’d opened up about my worries during the trip. I don’t remember. All I remember is that I felt those words, deeper than I’d felt practically any Bible verse. The passage was Psalm 143:6-10:
I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like parched land.
Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!
Desperate Times Call for Desperate Prayers
My friend didn’t hand me a verse that magically answered my internal query of where I should attend college. (There’s not a verse for that!) Instead, she handed me verses that are unsettling and uncomfortable — and that matched my own feelings perfectly. She gave me words to pray.
That slip of paper became soft and crinkled as I handled it over and over. Those verses in my own Bible were underlined. I don’t know how many times I copied those lines in my journal, praying with every stroke of the pen, Make me know the way I should go, for to you I life up my soul … Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! Not long after, he did lead me exactly where I needed to go.
To a lot of people, the words David cried amid life-threatening events seem dramatic for a middle class American girl to pray over her life decisions. I admit, wringing my hands over where I’d attend college seems a privileged thing, especially in light of what so many people are facing today — staggering levels of unemployment, loss of loved ones, and uncertainty about nearly every aspect of the future.
What are people supposed to do? I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. Like my friend all those years ago, all I can humbly offer is a testimony of God’s guidance in my own life, and some Scripture that gave me words to pray during a time that seems simple in retrospect, but made me anxious then.
God Cares About Your Questions
In verse 5, David writes, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” And in verse 8 he acknowledges that God’s love is steadfast. He is desperate and afraid, yet trusts that God will answer. This reminds us that faith and Pollyanna-positivity needn’t go hand-in-hand. They usually don’t.
So know that whatever questions you’re asking, you’re not alone, you’re not silly, and God isn’t mad at you for them. In fact, he cares. If you’re wondering how you’ll pay bills in the months to come, or whether you’ll be able to have the wedding ceremony or family vacation you’ve been planning, or how to lead your employees or church congregation in the new normal, pray an unsettling Psalm. Stretch out your hands to God. Feel the desperation of the Psalmist’s plea to answer quickly, Lord!
And if someone dear to you is struggling with hard questions about the future, avoid a trite, “fix-it” answer. Instead, give them some uncomfortable words to pray.