I have always been a journaler, and pouring out my heart to God on the pages of a journal feels as natural as talking to a best friend. I love that God cares enough about my heart to listen to me ramble about all of those crazy emotions swirling around inside of me. I have stacks and stacks of journals with pages filled with everything from the ramblings of a new-to-faith teenager to the confessions, desires, and prayers for my marriage and my still-new adult life.
But when it comes to actually asking for specific, tangible things? I’m not so sure.
My Hesitations with prayer
I know that God loves me and cares to hear my thoughts and processing, but it’s harder for me to believe that He’s all that concerned about my ideas for what shouldn’t and shouldn’t happen with certain people or situations. Why should I pray for certain things to happen when God’s ideas and will are so much wiser than mine? Why should I pray for a certain outcome in a situation when I know that ultimately, whatever happens will be the best thing that could have happened according to God’s knowledge and timing?
The more I talked to the women in my small group about this, we realized a lot of us share this. We love pouring out our hearts to God, but when it comes to asking for specific things about our marriages, our relationships, our faith, or our families, we back off a bit. When our marriages feel distant and challenging on a daily basis, we pray for general feelings like peace and comfort. When a family member doesn’t know the Lord, we pray that God would reach them in His perfect timing instead of for big change SOON. When a friend or child is sick, we pray that God would do whatever His will is, whether or not He heals the sickness. When we start some sort of new endeavor with our friends or families (like this blog), we pray general prayers that it would go according to His will rather than for exactly what we long to see happen.
These prayers are genuine and sweet and acknowledge that ultimately, God’s will and timing will always be good. But if we’re honest? They’re not really expressing our hearts’ desires.
Why I’m Afraid To Pray “Specific” Prayers
The more I talked with my small group women this semester, the more we started to realize that some of our prayers were general not out of a humble recognition of God’s goodness, but rather out of fear. We had prayed for specific things in the past and God hadn’t come through. Our relationships still struggled, friends lost their babies or loved ones, and situations didn’t turn out the ways we longed for. This left us disappointed, sad, and distant from the God who we so desperately longed to know and love. For some of those, those seasons turned into depression, anxiety, and distance from God that we did not want to repeat.
I saw this so much in my last year…I prayed and prayed that God would change and heal a certain part of our marriage, an area where I longed to see my husband and I connect deeply and intimately. But after months and months of praying for one specific thing, God seemed silent. I felt like He was distant and withholding the one thing I wanted, so I got bitter, resentful, and eventually depressed. Like the other girls in my small group, I’ve been disappointed and hurt by God’s responses (or seeming lack of response) to my specific prayers in the past, and want to protect myself from that disappointment by not praying for anything specific enough that God could actually give me a “no.”
In most of my prayers, I pray for general things in an attempt to protect God and myself from my own disappointment.
Why This Kind Of Prayer Makes Doesn’t Make Sense
The more we processed this during our Tuesday night meetings, the more we realized how silly this idea was. We were so scared to express our actual desires to God, that we withheld big parts of our hearts (the hearts HE made) in an effort to protect ourselves from future disappointment. But this doesn’t make sense for a two main reasons.
- The specific desires still exist, even when we don’t express them: Even if we don’t express our desires, they still exist in our hearts and we are secretly disappointed when they aren’t met. Whether or not a friend prays that her pregnancy would be complication free, that desire still exists, and she is still disappointed if something happens to her baby. We can push down and pretend we don’t feel our longings and hopes for our faith, marriages, families, and lives, but underneath it all, they still deepen and grow.
- God already knows these desires: Not only did God create us and put these longings on our hearts, He knows us to the core of our being and hears these things whether or not we verbalize them. He gave us hearts that long for connection, intimacy, comfort, and millions of other things, and those longings in themselves are from Him. Whether or not we write out and express our desires, they exist and God already knows them completely.
What We Miss Out On When We Withhold
Our True Desires From God
When we withhold our real desires from God, we present only part of ourselves to God. We attempt to protect ourselves and God from our disappointment, and as a result, our intimacy and connection with Him aren’t complete. In A Praying Life, Paul Miller describes this through the example of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before He is crucified:
“When Jesus prays at Gethsemane “take this cup from me,” he is being real; Christians rush to “not my will, but yours be done” without first expressing their hearts. They submit so quickly that they disappear. […] When we stop being ourselves with God, we are no longer in real conversation with God.”
When we withhold our most vulnerable hopes and desires for ourselves, other people, relationships, and circumstances, we present ourselves to God as we think He wants to see us, instead of as who we are. We submit to him so quickly that we disappear, and as Miller says, “The real us doesn’t encounter the real God.”
Wrestling with the weight and depth of our own disappointment when things don’t go our way can be overwhelming. I’ve faced this in the past and still wrestle with it now. But friends, what are we missing out on when we withhold our real desires, hopes, and dreams from God? Wrestling with Him as we work through our negative emotions is incredibly difficult, but it is in this process that we are changed, transformed, and renewed. It’s in that process that we, like Jacob, see God face to face and experience true intimacy with Him.
The God we follow is big enough to handle our longings and our disappointment, our gratitude and our frustration. What if we valued messy, hard, and honest intimacy with Him over self-protection? What if we trusted that His love for us is big enough to handle our pain and comfort us when things inevitably don’t go our way?
Even when it hurts, even when it means delving into parts of my heart that sting and ache, I want intimacy with God that is messy and full and REAL. I want to trust Him with my longings and my disappointment so I can trust Him with my joy and my gratitude. I want a relationship with God that is real, even when it means a vulnerability that hurts. I want to know Him in authentic ways that can withstand the weight of my disappointment and fears.
And as He holds my real self, the layers of self-protection and fear stripped away, I want to know His comfort, to hear His voice singing over me, “You are deeply loved and cared for, and the story I am weaving in your heart and your life is more beautiful than anything you could have dreamed or asked for.”
What desires have you been withholding from God?
In the spirit of vulnerability and accountability, I’ll share with you lovely friends one of the secret desires of my heart that I have been afraid to admit to God for fear of failure and disappointment these last few months. I’m putting it out there and trusting that no matter what happens, God is big enough to handle my joy or my disappointment, and ultimately He can use both those things for good. Here goes nothing….
Lord, I pray that you would use this blog in big ways. I pray that it would grow to be a place where women can breathe, where they are reminded that they are not alone in their fear, doubt, shame, and struggles. I pray that writing this blog would grow and challenge my intellect, creativity, heart, and relationship with you. And lastly, I pray that this blog would grow into something that we can use to support our family when I stay home with kids. You are good, and I know whatever you do will be good, but these are the things I long for, God, and I place them in your hands.
All right, friends, it’s your turn: Have you ever withheld a desire or prayer from God for fear of being disappointed? What are some of your most honest desires and prayers for yourself, your relationships, your families? How can we hold each other accountable for expressing these desires to God and to ourselves without fear?