When I used to pray, I told God what I thought he wanted to hear. Words of correct belief in contrast to circumstance. Truths of a higher reality despite present feelings.
I put my strength in correct beliefs. Church and school taught me what to believe in any and all circumstances. So come testing and trial, I reminded myself of truth. I’d use head knowledge to trump heart reality.
I’d pray: “God, you’re faithful. God, you’re good. Whatever happens I can trust you.” Living in faith meant correcting doubts and fears with good belief, right? Be strong by believing the truth.
The problem was, I often lived as a projection of myself. Without realising it, I could stuff my heart down in the process. I thought telling myself the right thing was renewing my mind. But deep down there was a nervousness, an unrest I couldn’t shake. Sometimes I couldn’t buy what I was selling.
Trusting my head
I thought I could trust my head. After all, feelings can lie. So when my heart faltered under doubts and fears, my head held fast to truth. Sure, anxiety crept back up again, but my coping system fought back by declaring my trust to God.
I mistook my bravado for confidence. But my heart was often unconvinced of anything different. I'd just told it to sit in the corner and be quiet. Head’s running the show and he's got the answers.
I was still scared. Trying to look like I had my act together. Trying to show the world that I was mature. And in God’s kindness he’s helping me drop the act and let him in.
My biggest answers to prayer this year happened when I stopped saying what I thought God wanted to hear and owned my weakness. Prayers like…
“God, I’m discouraged. Would you encourage me?” or “God, I really want to go home for Christmas. That’s what I want, so I might as well say it. Could you make a way?” or “I can’t make the money work. God, I feel like it’s in your heart for these things to happen. Could you provide?”
And each and every time the answer was swift and dramatic. I’ve told these stories before. I discovered a God who is immensely invested in my honest, no-shame prayers. Who would rather be there in my struggles, than see me pull it together by myself. In honest weakness, God reveals his strength.
I still believe in reminding myself of Biblical truth. Speaking to my emotions and circumstances. It's a practice that’s not insignificant. But I’m discovering the beauty of vulnerability with God. Having the strength to let go of the shame of weakness and inviting him to meet a need of my heart.
I come to God in weakness because I’m realising he wants to redefine my reality from a heart level, not a head level. He’s inviting me into an experience of truth. Because that's the truth that actually sets you free. He speaks to the reality I actually live in, not the one I present to the world.
Something Alyn Jones said at school really glued itself to my brain. In my years of ministry schools, theology training and church attendance I’ve heard over a hundred messages on joy. But Alyn’s definition changed my life. He said:
“Joy = Compassion + Weakness”
Being compassionate towards weakness reveals joy in life. It's an attitude that fosters unconditional acceptance over judgement and shame.
In a similar vein, Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, said that ‘man’ (women too) looks for a deep sense of meaning in life, else he numbed himself with pleasure. One of the most pragmatic components of his therapy encouraged patients to find a redemptive perspective on their suffering. He was sifting for beauty in the ashes. He was looking for strength in their weakness and shame.
Being compassionate towards my weakness is now how I honour my heart. A heart that he invited me to love like he does. Now when anxiety and fear come to visit, I pause long enough to stop fixing myself and invite God in too.
I’m starting to realise the fight for strength looks a lot like surrender. I’m learning that God honours the no-shame, honest prayer.