“It’s God’s will,” people often tell us when we’re grieving a loss or enduring a trial.
First things first: Suffering was never God’s will for us. He made us for joy. For love. For paradise.
Pride got in the way, though. And now, still, there is suffering.
This is a difficult reality. The phrase “crisis of faith” comes to mind, and we are especially vulnerable to such a crisis when we feel God is not hearing us. So let me pause here for reassurance, in case you need it.
God loves you no matter what. He sees your pain. He aches with you. He does not begrudge you for your doubt. He does not resent your anger. He can handle your disappointment. He will never punish you for having questions. He will never shun you for being frightened.
If your child was frightened and felt you weren’t present enough to protect him or her, wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you open up your arms to that child and fold them into your embrace without a single speck of resentment or anger? Wouldn’t you want to wrap them up in your love so they might never again doubt it? Wouldn’t your heart shatter into a million pieces, wishing only to take away their fear and pain and carry it yourself?
So it is with God. You are His beloved child. He died for you. He would die for you again and again. Run to Him.
Which brings us to the next question: How?
Prayer is a funny thing. It can sometimes seem one-sided or monotonous. Other times, it is like coming up from the depths for a big breath of air.
You are more likely to find that relief when you are open and frank with the Lord about what’s on your mind. Just as a wound needs debriding and open air to heal, your heart cannot be mended behind a steel wall. Even if that wall is erected in an attempt to be respectful.
Jesus may be King, but he is also a man. A man who was born in a barn. A man who was raised by a humble and quiet family. A man who consorted with average people and insisted upon average treatment. A man who died a criminal’s death, mocked and put to shame.
So he’s ready to hear your questions. God is ready to face your doubt and confusion and even your feelings of betrayal.
It is not sinful to say, “Why, God? Why have You done this to me?” It’s not sinful to feel neglected.
As for anger? Of course, you should never speak to your Father with hate. But anger is not hate. Anger is natural. Anger is a fire that can burn away death and clear a path for new life. Anger, managed appropriately, gives us the energy to seek to understand our circumstances and improve them.
Satan wants you to believe: “Who am I to question God? If I can just be more grateful, more unshakable, then I will see that life is good and I will be happier.”
But in reality, faith is eroded when we believe the lie that perpetually grateful, cheerful people are always happier and more #blessed—because suffering is inevitable no matter how cheerful we manage to be, and our mindset alone can’t change that.
So I say it again: Bring your negativity to God. Don’t suppress it. Don’t “turn it off.” Don’t feel you must hide or reject it. Give it to Him instead and He will take care of it.
How? Try these ideas and see where they take you.
Pray in a way that you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with.
Not used to saying the rosary? Give it a try. Never managed to say a novena, start to finish, without forgetting at least one day? Try again. Can’t remember the last time you got to daily Mass or sat in silence for more than a few minutes during Eucharistic adoration? Get yourself there.
It can be strangely cathartic to mirror your spiritual discomfort in your prayer life when you feel you’ve hit a wall in your faith.
Sometimes the extra work brings us up out of ourselves, giving us something different and positive to focus on and learn (and some new perspective on what it is we’re longing for). This can be reassuring and energizing in its own way.
Other times, the sheer effort of embracing unfamiliarity is enough to break a dam inside of us—to let all the sadness and frustration come tumbling out, such that we don’t even finish the prayer as we started it but instead allow ourselves to be vulnerable and more open to healing.
Devote uninterrupted time to vent your feelings, unfiltered, to God.
Step 1: Find a quiet place and schedule at least 30 uninterrupted minutes of solitude.
Step 2: Meditate on what’s bothering you for a few minutes. Consider the disappointment or anger you’re feeling. Recall a recent trigger. Sit inside those feelings for a short time, rather than pushing them down. Allow yourself the mindset of wondering, “Why, God?” so He can see what you need.
Step 3: Talk to Him. Don’t stop for 10 minutes (or just until you’re done—spent). Speak aloud or in your head; write it down if that’s helpful. But just let it out. Say every single thing you think. Tell Him everything you feel. Be angry. Be sad. But don’t just feel it—tell Him about it. Tell Him why you feel that way. Give a voice to everything that’s churning in your stomach and hurting your heart. You need to articulate what you’re feeling to fully understand it and make it known to Him, and to yourself.
Step 4: Be silent. Apologize if you’ve lashed out and feel obligated to do so. But mostly, be silent. Focus on your breathing, on letting go, on handing this pain off to Him and asking Him to make sense of it for you.
Step 5: Conclude. Mindfully say “Amen,” knowing that the air has been cleared and God knows how you feel. Try to move on with your day, or simply go to bed if you feel in need of rest.
Repeat as needed. Sometimes it helps immensely to do this just once; sometimes you need to do it again and again until you feel cleansed. Sometimes it’s therapeutic; sometimes it’s going to rile you up.
As difficult as this may be, any honesty is progress if you are in the habit of leaving your feelings of doubt or frustration unexplored or, worse, suppressed. Don’t make this your only form of prayer, but do use it as a tool. This exercise is for expressing your feelings and reassuring yourself that God has heard them.
Make note of the thoughts and questions this exposes for you, and take those to other forms of prayer or intellectual exploration.
Seek a meaningful conversation with a trusted priest.
As with any type of counseling, spiritual direction can offer a clarifying component to your faith life—especially when you’re struggling with feelings of doubt, anger, or resentment. Priests are ordained representatives of Christ in our world, so seeking counsel from one is an act of faith that God sees and supports.
A good shepherd tends his flock with joy, and so your priest will be happy to meet with you for a conversation (or direct you to another spiritual counselor, if ongoing discussions are important to you and his calendar is a roadblock).
You can get some “unofficial” spiritual direction by scheduling time for Confession (scheduling an appointment is best, so you have enough time for discussion and don’t feel rushed by a line of fellow faithful behind you). In the confessional, share what’s on your mind with your priest, seek absolution for your sins, and ask for his advice on how to see God’s love in your life. Lean on his faith and devotion to help nourish yours. I think many devout Catholics can say some of their most enriching, energizing, and cleansing moments—painful and intense as they may be—come from the sacrament of Reconciliation and the wisdom of a good confessor.
You might also invite your pastor to dinner, treating him to a homecooked (or takeout!) meal with a request for conversation and enrichment based on some things you’re struggling with in life.
In addition to these one-off interactions, be open to ongoing spiritual direction, too. If you’re struggling to understand how God is at work in your life, or to trust Him, you may well benefit from some guidance and support from a person who respects your faith and wants to help it grow.