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Letting Go of the Need to Feel Joy in Prayer

Editor’s Note: Former FMS development associate Christine Landau shares her reflections on genuine prayer, especially during times of great struggle. 

For my entire adult life, from the age of seventeen on, personal prayer has been very special and important to me. I have joined prayer groups, spent time in monasteries, involved myself in liturgy, gone on retreats, read books – and above all, I have spent many, many hours joyfully alone with God. My happiest moments in prayer have been about praise and adoration.

It is therefore very hard for me to accept that at times, when I am experiencing intense suffering, I simply cannot bring myself to praise or thank God. The only thing I can do in good conscience is to let go of the desire to praise – and wait. I refuse to praise and thank God when I am in severe pain. Such prayer would feel forced and insincere, and I will not be anything but completely transparent with God.

Right now, I am experiencing a health condition that involves many uncomfortable symptoms, including excruciating pain at times. I struggle with questions and uncertainty about my well-being in the future. The only prayer that is possible for me is the prayer of Job: is this my life? Why do I and so many others have to go through things like this? What is God doing and thinking? Is this unfortunate state of affairs really the human condition? If God is powerful, why are our bodies so unbelievably fragile? No philosophical or theological attempts to answer these questions are very persuasive to me.

Job refused to praise God in his intense suffering, and his “friends” castigated him for it. Still, Job kept questioning God, often angrily, sometimes in a tone of accusation and even rage. What is amazing is that at the end of the book, God says to Job’s “friends,” “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God actually praises Job for his total honesty, his willingness to pray from where he is and to say the truth, rather than what he thinks God might “want to hear.”

So I try – and struggle – to accept that it’s all right for me, at times like this, to let go of the desire to have certain kind of prayer life. I have to let go of the desire to be a “good Christian” – the kind of Christian who overflows with words about how wonderful God is. Thank goodness for the book of Job! The Bible recognizes and affirms the full spectrum of human emotion, and knowing that reassures me that I still belong to the community of faith.

Reflection Questions: Am I able to accept and work through my own “mixed feelings” about God, my doubts and moments of rebellion? How do I reconcile the reality of tremendous human fragility, pain, and suffering with the existence of a good God?
Christine Landau_headshot

Christine Landau is a graduate student in religious studies, and was a development associate at FMS in 2011-2012.

Featured image: adaptation of photo from Pixabay – public domain

Franciscan Mission Service often invites guest writers to contribute to the blog. Contributors often include board members, formation leaders, Secular Franciscans, Franciscan friars and sisters, and other friends of the organization. If you would be interested in contributing, please contact info@franciscanmissionservice.org.