Authentic Awakening in Prayer

How my prayer life changed my view on expressing emotion

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I used to curse my emotions. The chill of fear, the pang of disappointment, or being momentarily happy only to eventually fall from cloud nine — these emotions become exhausting after a while.

Characters on TV who show no emotion, who happen to be really smart, and who have demeaning emotionless humor (Dr. Gregory House, Sherlock Holmes, Sheldon Cooper) are hailed as the cool kids. Characters who are overly emotional (Jess Day from “New Girl,” Lily Aldrin from “How I Met Your Mother”) are made into ridiculous caricatures. Nobody wants to be called the fool. So, emotions must be the problem.

I often catch myself suppressing emotion to make it seem like I have my wits about me. Now, let me clarify what I mean by “emotion.” I don’t mean crying uncontrollably in public, yelling at strangers on the bus, or openly making mocking faces at co-workers. That’s immaturity. I’m talking about showing genuine excitement for things, allowing sorrow to sink in, and acknowledging when we have had enough. That is sincerity.

I was affirmed by a quote from Zooey Deschanel (who, ironically, plays Jess on “New Girl”): “Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things.” This helped me to think more about the misconceptions we sometimes have of people who are authentic about how they feel. The healthy approach to handling our emotions is not about suppressing them, but about awakening them. It’s less about showing the world absolutely everything we feel, and more about being wholly present and fully alive with those emotions.

This change in perspective consciously surfaced when I started working at St Basil’s Church in Toronto. I didn’t anticipate that my prayer life would change all that drastically. I identified with a contemplative spirituality. I could sit for a long time with God in silence. Much of my quality prayer time would be spent listening or sitting in awe in Adoration. But when I started working with the parish team, I mysteriously lost interest in silent prayer and my chatting with God throughout the day while I was doing various tasks gained momentum. I quickly realized that if I didn’t pray while doing, I wouldn’t pray at all. Suddenly, it was less about putting aside time for God and more about inviting God into my daily tasks. This forced me to be even more open with Him, as I was aware of God’s presence everywhere, not exclusively in the chapel. As time goes on, I’m more courageous in my tone. It’s now a habit to offer things to God throughout my day — responsibilities, conversations, difficulties. If I’m having a good day, I thank God; and if it’s a rotten day, He lets me vent. After a few minutes of smiling or pouting, I let Him have it (“It’s yours now”), and I trust in God to journey with me. These prayers bring us closer, and they’re making me more real with God.

Consequently, I am able to reveal this authenticity to others — in my work, at school, with my family, and my peers. It’s like seeing the world with new eyes. I hadn’t realized how foggy I was until I lifted that veil. There is a definite suffering, and yet such a freedom, in sincerity. To be secure in how you feel means to be at home in how you express yourself. For me, it took some perspective in prayer to realize this freedom.

I am more fearless now than I ever have been, and that sprouts from feeling safe in my relationship with God. I don’t curse my emotions anymore; I embrace them and choose how to express them lovingly. Yes, allowing ourselves to be human can be exhausting, but having the experience of unbearable sorrow also gives us the ability to be truly joyful.

Denying our feelings tends to make us numb and unintuitive. Shutting down doesn’t just tune out sorrow; it also tunes out joy. The characters we love to watch on TV don’t tell the whole story; they are only one-dimensional images of humanity. Letting God help us write our story allows us to live life more fully. God didn’t promise that it would be easy, but God did assure us that it would be worth it.