A few months ago, I ran into my friend, Jason, at a local coffee shop. Freshly caffeinated and nearly falling backwards from the weight of my backpack, I stopped to say a quick “hello” on my way out. It may have been the giant mug of high-octane coffee I had just consumed, or maybe it was the agitation of wearing a backpack akin to piggy-backing a full-grown adult. Whatever the reason, I decided that Jason’s question How are you? deserved an honest answer. “Not well,” I said.
But that’s not all I said. I was tired and wired, feeling empty yet overflowing with nervous energy and anxiety. I was jealous of the way that my peers at the seminary seemed to have a grip on this whole “vocational call” business, how they seemed to have no doubts about this God thing. I felt dried up, and ultimately I knew it was because – I just had to let it out – I didn’t feel like I loved Jesus like everyone else seemed to love Jesus. A few nights prior, the author Sarah Bessey had been in town promoting her new book and I had gone to see her. I was blown away. This woman really loves Jesus. It just oozes out of her. And man, I went home jealous. Why don’t I love Jesus like Sarah Bessey loves Jesus? What’s wrong with me? Poor Jason, he didn’t know he was standing so close to an honesty geyser.
And then, Jason simply asked, “Have you said any of this to God?” No, I had not. I had made the wise decision to open up to a few trusted friends about what was going on in my head and heart. As someone familiar with seasons of depression, I know better than to keep too much locked inside for too long. But no, I had not said any of this to God. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had prayed.
What could I possibly say if I did say any of this to God? “Hey, God. Just wanted to let you know I don’t really love you. Ok, glad we talked. Amen.” I had no idea where to begin. If I’m being honest – and we now know I am nothing if not honest – I was so ashamed of the things I was feeling (or not feeling) about Jesus; I worried that God would decide that my prayers weren’t worth hearing anyway.
I wish I had kept Psalm 102 at the ready for such a time as this. This psalm voices deep anguish of the body and the spirit, something to which we can all relate in ways big or small: “I lie awake; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop” (v. 7). The psalmist even guides us into the certainty of our ancient faith, renewing our hope: “But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; your name endures to all generations” (v. 12). This, like many psalms, speaks for those who have no words left. But it’s this psalm in particular that speaks for this deep anxiety that was keeping me from praying in the first place. It gives voice to this deep fear that my prayers are too shameful to be heard: “Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me…Incline your ear to me…” (vv.1, 2). We can begin here. We can begin with our anxiety. We can plead to God with fear and doubt in our hearts. “Will you even hear me?” Yes, we can say this to God.
Verse 1 asks the question, “Will you hear me?” Verse 17 provides the answer: “He will regard the prayer of the destitute and will not despise their prayer.” Thanks be to God.