“Hear my voice, O God, as I complain.”
Psalm 64 has one of my favorite opening lines. The Holy Spirit inspired the Psalmist to give us words that tell us it is alright to complain to God, to be angry with him at times.
Psalm 44 also reads, at times to me, as a complaint. I can see the Psalmist raising his fist towards heaven as he exclaims:
“Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us…You make us like sheep for the slaughter…you sell your own people for nothing…You make us the taunt of our neighbors, the laughing stock of all who are near…my face is covered with shame at the voice of the taunter.
This befell us though we had not forgotten you; though we had not been false to your covenant; though we had not withdrawn our hearts; though our feet had not strayed from your path. Yet you have crushed us in a place of sorrows and covered us with the shadow of death. It is for you that we face death all day long and are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep? Why do your hide your face from us and forget our oppression and misery?
Isn’t that how it is sometimes? I’m doing everything right and yet life is not going my way!
Psalm 77, too, voices a complaint to God.
“Will the Lord reject us forever? Will he show us his favor no more? Has his love vanished forever? Has his promise come to and end? Does God forget his mercy or in anger withhold his compassion?”
It is good to reflect that when we come before God it is alright to express anger, frustration, anxiety and fear. I have talked with many people over the years who feel that it is not acceptable to approach God in prayer with these negative emotions. Prayer is for praise, they say and for thanksgiving, or bringing our intentions before Him. If you are not giving praise or thanks, you need to change your attitude before you approach God.
I admit, there was a time in my life when I would have expressed the same feelings. In prayer, we seek God’s presence and his consolation. Negative emotions in prayer seem to bring the opposite of what we desire. Over the years, as I have prayed with the Psalms daily, it has occurred to me that the prayer book inspired by the Holy Spirit, and all of Sacred Scripture, has given us God’s words to use for expressing complaints, anger and frustration.
As the Word of God made man, Jesus expressed these negative emotions. We seem to forget that Jesus, in his human nature, was subject to human emotions. We feel good when we read the stories of Jesus showing mercy; healing the lepers, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, curing the crippled and expelling demons. We love the compassionate Jesus. We must also love the Jesus who displayed anger. The Gospels of John (Chapter 2) and Mark (Chapter 11) describe the event of Jesus cleansing the temple. He makes a whip and chases out the merchants, he overturns their tables and exclaims that His Father’s house is a house of prayer, not a den of thieves.
Jesus expressed his anger with a bit of violence!
In Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 23), we have the book of woes. From verses 15-29, Jesus uses strong and angry language to chastise the scribes and the pharisees. “Woe to your scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.” He invokes these woes seven times as he calls them out for their pride, their religiosity which had the effect of leading people away from God.
In Mark 3:5, we read “Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart” Jesus was reacting to the pharisees challenge because he healed a leper on the sabbath.
In his book, Becoming and Ordinary Mystic, Albert Haase, OFM, a Franciscan friar explains,
“We pray from where we are, not from where we think we should be…Everything is appropriate to bring before God. Nothing needs to be excluded. Anything that is a source of joy, shame, fear, worry, anger, or confusion, trivial or unseemly as it may be…There’s no wrong way to pray….except when you stop being honest and transparent with God. Authentic Christian mystical prayer…is a conversation that encourages us to share with God everything about our lives – our thought, struggles, joys, sorrow – even those emotions and feelings we consider inappropriate to show God.”
Haase explains what he learned from one of his spiritual directors, what he calls the “Come as you are” prayer. God meets us where we are. You do not need to be in a “right” frame of mind to approach God in prayer. What is going on with you right now? What are you dealing with right now? What are you feeling right now? God knows. We cannot hide ourselves from God. Bringing your anger, frustration and any other negative emotions to God in prayer allows us to own them, acknowledge them and turn them over to God. We may not get immediate relief from what we are feeling or our current situation, but when you share your most raw and vulnerable self with God you can’t help but deepen your relationship with Him. Relationships are built on honest and open communication. Be Honest with God, even in your anger.