Learning to be brutally honest with God – a reflection on the Psalms
I gave a talk about having honest conversations with God at our Ash Wednesday service yesterday. I had planned to spend the night before polishing my talk but instead I spent it in A&E with Little bro. If there’s ever a time to test how honest you’re going to be with God it’s during your 5th hour of waiting to see a Doctor when your over-tired kid has now perked up and you’d really rather be home in bed. (He’s fine by the way, lots of cuddles needed and a nasty bout of tonsillitis we just need to wait out).
So, whilst my talk may not have been polished, it was real. I found that reflecting on the Psalms was a really helpful way to start this season of Lent and so I thought I’d share my talk here just in case others might too.
As you know, I am deeply passionate about honest conversation. It’s the title of the blog I write, and I’ve just written a book which carries the by-line ‘An Honest Look at Parenting’, so it’s actually become a bit of thing for me. In all that I do I hope to be honest, and to create opportunities for people to share truthfully what’s on their heart and feel freedom to talk about it without fear of judgement.
But, that’s not something I’ve always found easy to do. It’s something I’ve had to consciously learn. Sharing my emotions and taking about how I felt used to terrify me. I wouldn’t cry for fear people thought I looked weak and I assumed people wouldn’t really care what I thought so I wouldn’t share it.
For me, I think my journey to choosing to be more honest began during University. I was struggling with wanting to achieve well in my degree, in pleasing everyone and worrying what they thought about me, and didn’t really feel like I knew who I was in the middle of all of that. After a visit to the Doctor who said I probably had mild depression, I made a choice to start being honest, with myself, with my friends, with God. I had this deep sense that I needed to cut everything out and choose to tell God honestly what was going on in my heart, or actually probably more to ask Him to help me figure it out. And I realised my view of God was that he was distant, I’d kept Him at arms length, much like most of my other relationships and I told Him what was good and thanked him, trying desperately to please Him, not choosing to be in real, honest relationship with Him.
For me, when I realised that and started to choose to do relationship differently things changed in my relationship with God, and with other people. There’s probably a whole different talk I could give on that so today we’ll stick to having a look at what we can learn from David and the Psalms!
To give us a little overview, when you look through the Psalms, you’ll find there are different kinds: Psalms of praise and worship; confession; anguish and lament; Psalms sharing history and prophetic Psalms which look to Jesus.
One thing they all have in common is that they are wonderful, honest conversations between the writer and God. With abundant praise and thanksgiving in the good times, and honest, raw emotions in the bad times.
There are many to choose from, 150 in fact. Today, I’ve chosen a good old Psalm of anguish and lament. Psalm 13.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?For the director of music. A psalm of David. Psalm 13 (NIV)
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Many of the Psalms follow this pattern used here by David. A cry to God for help, the writer feeling like God has abandoned them, then ending with a bold confidence in who God is and how he saves.
I have always loved David. I find I learn so much when read the Psalms and picture how he would chat to God. A man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), his life was anything but straightforward but he was a worshipper who was also always brutally honest with God.
I was part of a small group at University. It was a wonderfully messy and honest group with people from our church and the estate we lived on coming along. I remember a conversation with one 18 year old who came along, (I’ll call her Lucy). Lucy’s life had been complicated, she’d been in and out of foster homes and now lived in a hostel and she was really angry at life. She’d come along to church and was exploring what it meant to know God and one evening she said, ‘I’m so angry at God that I can’t talk to Him.’
It made me think a lot about how and when we talk to God and this is something I’ve continued to think about, particularly when it comes to chatting to my kids about faith. The Parenting for Faith course, which is designed to help equip you to raise God-connected kids, talks about creating windows to show children what your faith looks like. And as I’ve worked with children and then had my own I’ve been really conscious that I don’t only want to show them what my faith looks like when I’m happy or when I’m thanking God but to give them glimpses of what it looks like to be in relationship with God when I’m angry, or when I can’t understand why something is happening. I want them to see my full, honest relationship with God, knowing that they can have that too.
David creates exactly those kind of windows for us. He wasn’t just a little sad. He was often hurting and angry. Sometimes because of enemies pursing him, or because of guilt at his own sin or hurt after betrayal. What is amazing about David is how honest he is with God. He tells Him exactly what he is feeling and thinking. He doesn’t hide it or bury it letting it rot or bubble back up to the surface. He lets it out. Through prayer.
Here in Psalm 13, he starts by asking God, “How long, O LORD, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” That’s raw.
David felt forgotten, but he did not forget God. Even though he felt like God was hidden from Him, David still chose to turn to God, to talk to God.
There are so many other examples of wonderfully blunt honesty in the Psalms, just like this one.
I cried aloud (3:4)
I am languishing… My bones are troubled (6:2)
I’m weary from my groaning… I flood my bed with tears (6:6)
There’s sorrow in my heart all day (13:2)
I find no rest (22:2)
I am lonely and afflicted (25:16)
These are just a few. Written by people at their very lowest, telling God exactly how they feel.
I wonder, do we do this?
Do we always tell God totally honestly and bluntly exactly we you feel?
When we’re hurting, is it Him we turn to right away?
Or, even though we want to be connected with Him do we sometimes feel like we must go to Him perfect and impress him, trying to pray what we think we should?
David and the other psalmist’s hearts desire was to be connected with God and this meant being open and honest, laying their whole selves down, and allowing God’s truth in.
I know for me, that is so true of all my relationships. The ones were I’m open and honest about the good stuff as well as the bad are the ones where I feel the most connection. And I want my heart to be connected to God whatever I’m feeling. I want the kind of relationship David had with God.
In verse 5, David says, “But I trust in your unfailing love”. No matter how hard life was, no matter what he was going through, he never doubts or forgets God.
He came to God knowing that He was loved. He was able to cry out for help and worship in the same breath because he was so sure of who God was. He knew God. His heart was honest and he expressed it freely.
I feel challenged by David to be completely and utterly honest with God. In every circumstance. At my very happiest, and at my very lowest. God doesn’t say we need to come to Him perfect. It’s not possible. Jesus died and rose again because we’re not perfect so that we could have connection with God. God loves us at our very messiest.
So today, I wonder are we as honest with God, and ourselves, as David was?
Do we want to be?
God, we thank you that you love us at our messiest. That you invite us to come as we are to you. We pray now as we’re honest with you that you meet with us and transform our hearts to be more open with you as we draw near to you and you to us.