My father died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 17 years old. The next year, my mother lost her battle with ovarian cancer.
When I got the news of my mother’s death, I ambled back to my dorm in silence, fell in a heap on the floor and screamed a while. Loneliness and grief overwhelmed this college freshman.
I had been raised in a Christian home and believed in God. During that season of my life, I never stopped believing in him. I couldn’t – I needed someone to blame. I needed someone with whom to be angry.
For the next two years, my prayers were few and far between. On those rare occasions when I stopped giving God the cold shoulder, it was only to give him a piece of my mind. My prayers were heated. I figured I deserved a little candor after what I had been through.
After all, what kind of God takes both parents from a kid like me? What kind of God could have stayed so cool and aloof when tragedy had been so imminent?
What kind of God is this?
That question has occupied me ever since. And here is one thing that I have learned: This is the kind of God who invites us to be angry with him.
He is the kind of God who allows human beings to beat on his door with tears on their faces and with grief in their souls and say, “Where were you? How could you! Why didn’t you? I needed you. Do you see me? Do you care?” He lets us do that kind of thing.
That kind of prayer may seem impious to some. But I submit that such prayers are actually more pious than those which deny heartache, fear, loneliness and shame or mask them with positive platitudes and empty praise.
These prayers of pain take seriously that God is ultimately responsible for the well-being of this world. They affirm that the buck stops with him.
These prayers confess the truth that all is not right with the world and the world is not as God would have it. They imagine a world without pain, fear or shame, and they ache for that world to become real. As our Lord has taught us to pray, “May your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Where did we get the idea that real faith means taking everything in stride, never questioning God’s presence and never disputing God’s decisions?
Certainly not from the Psalms, which say things like, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1) and “You have rejected us and disgraced us” (Psalm 44:9) and “My soul is full of troubles and my life draws near to (the grave)” (Psalm 88:3).
Certainly not from Jesus, who on the cross cried out with the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1).
May we learn to pray honestly. And thanks be to God that he welcomes our candor.
The Rev. Parker Bullard is senior minister at Poncha Springs Church of Christ.