I have a dear friend who is absolutely destroying her life. Between drug use and running away from her husband, kids and friends, things are looking quite grim. I don’t even know how to contact her at this point. It’s bad.
The problem I’m having is that I struggle in continuing to pray for her (as I have been for 10+ years). Not because I don’t have clarity that I should, but because I don’t want to hate God if he says “no” to what my heart desperately wants—for my friend to get her life together.
How do you keep praying for things that are so important to you that, if God says no, you’re afraid it will make you hate Him?
That is the biggest obstacle to my desire to pray (or even reflect). I don’t want to make things worse for myself for hating a loving God for denying my most desperate prayers. Maybe that sounds foolish, but I can hold a grudge with the best of them.
– Quittin’ Time
First, before I start on any advice-giving, I want to just say what a privilege it is to hear your story and be let into this very sad, difficult and—if you’ll allow me—hopeful situation. I’m really sorry about your friend and the ripples of people who are being hurt by her brokenness. I think I’d have a hard time talking to God about this, as well—it’s a lot.
To your question: I have been praying for a few days about how to reply to you. And to be frank, I’ve been hesitating on this column because my best thoughts are, well, dangerous. You see, I’ve come to believe that the best way to get past a hangup or negative feeling about God is to take off the gloves and get into it with Him.
Now listen, before I get called a Pharisee (or worse—one commenter recently accused me of speaking for Satan. Thanks, Internet!), I have come to my conclusion that we can battle with God because of the following two verses:
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18)
“About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Matthew 27:46).
Here’s what I take from those, and about the zillion other Google-searchable verses on having less than positive feelings toward God:
1. God gets you.
2. He can handle your doubt.
Yes, He can. Yet, when we think about being that kind of honest with God, we often shy away. Some set of inherited values kicks in and it feels improper, impolite or disobedient. And to an extreme, it can be. But don’t let that value system override the larger truth: God wants to know you, all of you—the good, the bad, the shameful, the frustrated, the joyful, the sorrowful.
We may view God as some patriarchal boss, which is just not the character of God. He’s endlessly dimensional and wants you, where you’re at, right now. My pastor used to say, “We cannot meet God where we wish we were. We either cry out to Him from the place we find ourselves or we will not cry out at all.”
That’s it, Quittin’, be where you are and cry out to God from a real place of vulnerability and honesty. It helps, I know.
There was a moment in my life when I was in the middle of praying for the zillionth time that a difficult situation would be different and that God would just show up. And then, one day, I kind of snapped internally and said, “screw this.” I fell silent for a long time because I just couldn’t take the non-answer anymore. I couldn’t take the lack of bigger picture, and I couldn’t take the option of “no.” Like you, I just lost the steam to keep praying.
Surprisingly, during my time of giving full vent to my anger and lashing out at God, my heart started to heal and soften. Things weren’t OK, but I calmed down, and eventually, I had enough energy to start praying, reading the Bible, talking to friends and hoping again. This was because God knew I had a broken heart and was out of my mind. What’s more, God cared for me even as I rejected Him.
Now listen, Quittin’, our stories are not a perfect parallel. I can’t imagine the sadness you feel. But I do get the idea of being so afraid that God will give another “no,” or another bout of silence, that you just stop asking.
I would fight against that as hard as you can, and I’d bring that before God. Seriously, give it to Him: “Where are you, God?” “Am I not asking the right thing?” “I am so damn mad at you!” “Why have you forsaken me?” God has heard these things before, and He’s able to hear them from you.
The dangerous part is, of course, that our anger and honesty can—when unchecked—turn into desertion. To guard against that, I’d make sure that even if your head and heart is in the wrong place, your body is doing the right things. Things like reading, community, mentorship, etc. Then, once you’ve fortified your life and are ready to do it, I’d give full vent to your anger and not treat God as though He can’t handle your disappointment in Him.
Like any relationship, dare I say even the one with your struggling friend, the darkest and most honest times often lead to deeper levels of love and trust—because someone was willing to go there and be real when it wasn’t easy.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Trial comes first. It has to. But the difficulty will produce deeper levels of trust and intimacy if you keep holding on and continue to let God into the pain.
Let me know how it goes, Quittin’. We are praying for you and your friend, even when you can’t find the strength to do it yourself.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.