How to Pray Honestly: Honesty with God
“Let’s be honest.”
“I’ll be honest with you.”
“Honest to goodness.”
These are all phrases we’ve either heard or spoken numerous times. As children, we were taught that telling the truth is the right thing to do. And yet how many of us got into trouble – or maybe even still do! – for lying?
But what does honesty with God have to do with our prayer? As a teenager, when I began to develop a deeper personal relationship with God, my prayer was often filled with “Thees” and “Thous.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with addressing God in this way; but, in retrospect, I believe that the “Thees” and “Thous” that filled my prayer were obstacles that kept me from truly pouring my heart out to the Lord. I was more concerned with proper piety than with honesty, most likely because there were a lot of things in my heart that I wanted to hide from God.
Jesus knows what is in the depths of our hearts. He knows the thoughts of our hearts before we speak them. So if we fail to be honest with God in prayer then we are really only deceiving ourselves. It’s important for us to know that honesty with God in prayer is liberating.
A classic example is when we feel anger towards God. As a priest, people ask me this question all time: Is it wrong to be angry at God? First and foremost, we must remember that anger is an emotion, and oftentimes emotions are neither right nor wrong: they just are. What we do with our emotions is a separate issue.
People are sometimes surprised by the answer I give them: if you feel anger toward God you should tell Him. Really. He can handle it. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him in prayer. He wants us to express what is in the depths of our hearts. For didn’t Jesus pour out His heart to His Father in prayer? In Gethsemane? On the Cross? Didn’t Jesus pour out the depth of His emotions to His Father?
We should do the same. Hold nothing back when you pray. Tell the Lord exactly what’s in your heart, especially the bad feelings that might be present. It is precisely by pouring these emotions out that we are freed from their hold and we enter more deeply into the loving embrace of the Lord.
No, God does not want us to be stuck in anger or any other negative feelings we may have. This is precisely the reason that we need honesty with God in our prayer. We need to go before God as we are, not pretending to be someone we are not. If we are honest with God in prayer, we will feel a sense of deep freedom, and we will find ourselves having a deeper understanding of how He is working in our lives.
Art for this post on “How to Pray: Honesty with God”: Mirror of Woman Kneeling in Prayer, Alexandre Couder, between 1808 and 1879, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.