In my prayer life, I am an exhaustor of options. I wish this meant that I spent hours in contemplation, examining my needs and God’s responses as if marveling at a diamond under a magnifying glass. What it really means is that God is often the last place I bring my fear and worry.
My anxieties first get stuffed away. I minimize and hide them, frustrated that they have once again appeared. When that doesn’t work (it never does), I analyze. I put them to paper, turn them over in my mind, and attempt to calculate their causes and cures on my own. I do this because I fear that God’s attention is finite. If I can only go to him once, my thinking goes, I had better make sure I get the “ask” right. I have a hard time remembering that God wants it all, that I can bring him the mess without first attempting to clean it up on my own.
This methodical and measured approach to comfort-seeking is contrasted by the impulsivity of my 2-year-old son. His cries immediately and urgently ring out, when he is hungry or tired, when he wants help or sympathy, and sometimes for no clear reason at all. Every need, large or small, is loudly and instantly expressed. His demands are exclaimed with the confidence that someone is hearing and receiving, pleas and prayers of their own right.
And out of my infinite love for him, I respond with equal urgency. I place his bicycle back upright on the sidewalk, I retrieve the book he is reaching for, or repeat for the third time that dinner is almost ready. In these moments, I surprise myself with my patience and tenderness. And I wonder, if the human response to these cries is so immediate and attentive, how much stronger and more vast, must the instinct to comfort be for God?
In observing my toddler, I notice what is often missing in my grown-up prayers: a single, instinctual cry. I too often rationalize and reason, dissecting my worry and fear into more manageable pieces before it ever goes to God. When I found myself recently overwhelmed with balancing responsibilities of work and home during this time of quarantine, I parsed out to-do lists and turned to them wildly, looking to control whatever I could. I filled any time I might have had for being with doing, unable to separate out the symptoms of anxiety from their cause and therefore reticent about bringing them to prayer. The impulsiveness of a child buried within, a direct line to the almighty kinked by “shoulds” and “not yets.” This mess, I reasoned, was not yet worthy of God; mine was a thread too twisted and tangled for him to unknot.
We learn to temper and modulate emotion as we age, and this serves us in many instances. Yet the instinct to cry out is still wired within us. We are still those little people, somewhere deep in there. And when we struggle in prayer, I suspect it is those little people God simply wants to hear from. Just as a parent immediately responds to a young child calling for “Mama,” God only needs to hear the call “Abba,” the most tender “Daddy,” to summon his full attention, grace, and love. It is with these simple cries that we humble ourselves and by doing so, grow ever closer to Christ.
I often think of Jesus’ most poignant cry on the cross, visiting this moment as one of the rawest we see in Scripture. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries out. This scene presents in full color, Jesus as man, and simultaneously gives us a model of uninhibited, guttural, instinctual prayer. A holy and productive cry, not unlike the hourly cries of a child. His is a prayer that is immediately and urgently human, and in a language we sometimes forget that God understands.
This Easter Season, particularly with the weight of our world’s current crisis, how are we orienting ourselves as children of God and embracing the humility that comes with it? How can we reconnect with our ability to cry out? And when we sit in that gut-wrenching moment on Good Friday, how are we modeling our prayer after Jesus’ own cry long past Easter Sunday?
Originally published April 10, 2020.