uncensored prayer

uncensored prayerone thing that i’ve always struggled with over the years as a christian has been the emphasis on “prayer” looking a certain way and how many of us have always felt like we fall short.   i can’t tell you the amount of times i have either said or heard others say, “i am not that good of a pray-er.”  i said that for a long time, too, until i embraced that i might not pray like john or jane because i’m not john or jane, i’m kathy.  and i think God likes that, that God wants us to come however we need to come, and be willing to engage not in superficial “hi-how-are-you-here’s-what-i-want” kind of prayers but rather in deep, real, honest uncensored connection together.   because so many of us didn’t learn how to interact with others & ourselves in such a raw & vulnerable way, we often don’t know how to do it with God, either.

we think things, we feel things, but we stuff them down & don’t bring them to the relationship out of fear when really, we have absolutely nothing to be afraid of.  God can hack it.  the question is, can we?

i had the privilege of reading joy wilson’s new book–uncensored prayer: the spiritual practice of wrestling with God (released by Civitas Press July 15th 2011) during her editing process.  it’s packed with so much beauty & a call to all of us to be brave and honest with God so that we can be formed & transformed in all kinds of ways that won’t happen when we withhold, play it safe, or try to protect God or ourselves from the truth of what we’re feeling & experiencing.

here’s a little interview i did with her that fleshes out some of the ideas in uncensored prayer.  enjoy! 

  • tell us a little bit about your spiritual journey and how you landed in this spot of writing a book on wrestling with God.

Raised in a conservative, evangelical home, I was taught that God loves us, yet our relationship is based on faith and good behavior. By the time I was a teenager, I became convinced that God wanted nothing to do with me because of incest, promiscuity and addictions. The day came when I screamed out my pain and anger, and God screamed back unconditional love for me. My book carries the message that God wants to talk with you in unedited honesty.

  • what do you mean by “uncensored prayer” and “wrestling with God”?

God longs to share uncensored conversations with everyone; no topic, language, or feeling is unholy.  Many of us have been taught God knows what we think, but it’s not safe to say what we think, because He/She is easily offended. Actually, God loves a good fight and wants to wrestle with us through our doubt, anger, pain, everything.

  • what does that look like in your own life?

I’ve written poetry most of my life.  Often these are my prayers.  Sometimes I say things out-loud or in silent meditation.

  • what are some things you sometimes say to God?

You name it, I’ve said it. On the same day I’ve said “Thank you” in gratitude and “Screw you!” when I felt abandoned or angry.  If anyone could offend God, I would top the list.

  • what are some things you sometimes hear back from God in the wrestling match?

God speaks to me through the Bible, songs, friends, nature.  Many times I get peace of mind, or a conflict in my heart just goes away, replaced by peace or knowing what to do.  I don’t know how this happens; I just know it does, often in ways I don’t expect.

  • why do you think uncensored prayer is so hard for people?

We all have beliefs about God and prayer.  Some of us are comfortable with religious rituals that define what’s appropriate to say in prayer.  Other people think prayer is a four-letter word, unwilling to approach a God of wrath and judgment.  Stepping out of our comfort zone is never easy, because the unknown is scary.  But seeking God in complete honesty gives us the chance to experience a personal relationship with the One who loves and accepts us just as we are.

  • to the person who says, “i’m sick of going round and round with God and not getting anywhere,” what would you say?

Tell God how you feel and ask for a response.  God wants us to know that we’re hearing from Him or Her and will make sure we do, if we’re willing to listen.  God won’t always give us the answer we want, but we will receive what we need.

  • i know a lot of people are skeptical of books about prayer at this stage in their journey because they’re afraid of a formula they’ll have to follow or trite reflections on prayer.  this material’s not like that at all, but what would you say to those people when considering buying a copy of uncensored prayer?

Here’s a quote from my book:

“There are hundreds of books and seminars to teach us the “right” way to pray.  But Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them about prayer.  Unfortunately, we’ve taken “the Lord’s Prayer” as a mantra, as if “that’s all there is, folks.”  Most of the other prayers in the Bible we can’t imagine ourselves praying.  Why?  They aren’t ours.  Uncensored Prayer is about discovering our own words.”

  • in the book, you share some great examples of some prayers you have written.  Do you have a favorite you want to share?

Want To/Don’t Want To 

Why can’t I lay this down?

Why won’t I?

This addiction to the past,

the obsession to retain the hurt that haunts me,

causes me to perpetuate self-condemning action

that mutates from vice to foe,

that keeps me chained to all I hate

and claim I long to leave.

And yet I practice like a pro

receiving praise from no one,

no reward, no promise of relief

while I hang on and hang myself

with what I hate to lose.

You have promised power to free me,

all the help I need to heal.

What’s wrong with me?

Am I proud or stupid to choose death over life?

I fight deliverance like it’s the bad guy

who stalks to take me down.

I’m miserable, embarrassed, angry at myself

and yet here I am – a life-long fool

enmeshed in a mess of my making.

Why don’t you do something, God?

Zap me like Paul;

take me away where I can’t hurt myself.

Intervene in my destruction,

haul me off to heaven – the land of the free –

where I will sin no more.

What if I never grow beyond this trap,

my self-imposed exile from grace?

What if I’m never able to trust you enough?

I want to but can’t;

every attempt is short-lived,

fraught with frustration as I cry to you,

“I’m sorry” once again.

What kind of child am I to act this way,

repenting without belief that it will matter in an hour

when I know I’ll fail again, and yet I keep trying.

Does that make sense?

You stand with open arms;

in fact, you hold me close and whisper love

that somehow isn’t enough.

I see these Christians

who tell amazing tales of salvation at the brink.

I long for this so bad it hurts like hell

because it doesn’t happen for me.

I know I hope or I wouldn’t seek it,

wouldn’t try to grasp this grace.

You say I can’t do it, but you can;

my best will never save my soul.

You say you came because I couldn’t come.

You follow me around

like a stray puppy I cannot shake;

you sit within my pain and it hurts you, too.

I see your eyes – compassionate and kind –

but what about those who want to trust, but can’t,

who long for love, but lose?

Can you help someone who can’t do their part

to believe and just let go?

Am I stuck with half a heart

to serve you with the whole of me?

Where’s the hope for me –

divided and doubting deliverance once for all?

God don’t leave me like this;

don’t let go of me.

You put up with Peter and Thomas –

prime examples of un-likely disciples.

You say you won’t abandon me,

but please God don’t abandon me.

I’m the least likely to succeed at this;

please don’t give up on me.


  • for you, what’s the most fun thing about this project?

Seeing the shock on a few faces when I read my more controversial prayers in public. The language in my most painful poems can get kind of raw.  One of the first such prayers I read to a group had the word “shit” in it.  This man came up to me later and said, “I didn’t know you could say ‘shit’ to God.”  My response was, “God already knows what you think.  Uncensored Prayer is saying what you think to God, no matter what.”

  • if you had one take away for every reader of this material, what would you hope they gleaned from it?

What have you always wanted to ask or say to God?  Take the risk of telling Him or Her the unedited truth in your own words, and if you’re willing to listen, you will begin having shocking conversations with the One who loves you best.

thank you so much, joy, for your heart & passion & challenge to all of us.  the prayers in this book are gorgeous & hard & real; i love we have a God who loves honesty.  may we be brave & willing to speak freely & to listen intently.

* * * * *

a little bit more about joy, who i just got to give a big hug to at the outlaw preachers gathering in nashville:

Joy Wilson is the author of Uncensored Prayer: The Spiritual Practice of Wrestling With God and a contributor to Not Alone (both Civitas Press, 2011). She and her husband, Bud, are two life-long hippies.  They live in Bartlett, TN, with six cats, two dogs, and no TV.  She is part of an eclectic group of Jesus-followers called Outlaw Preachers and has a passion for prison ministry. Also, Joy is an advocate for middle-aged and senior women, and anyone who suffers from depression. Joy’s website is joyleewilson.org and you can contact her at joyleewilson@gmail.com.

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

17 Comments

  • 😀 YES!! I remember, almost 5 years ago, when everything I thought I knew started to crumble around me, and memories of childhood abuse were coming to the surfaces bringing pain in waves, I was sitting in a dark room in the church crying and praying and told God that all this f***ing hurts too much. Then I stopped in shock….and said, “Papa, I just cussed at you!” His response? Given with a smile and almost a laugh: “Yes. I noticed that. It okay….just don’t make a habit of it.” There was such a sense of him being amused and not at all concerned or offended. From there, the conversation got more honest. I still struggle, sometimes, keeping it that way….

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    • Katherine,I’ll never forget how shocking it was to discover I couldn’t shock God. No one ever told me you could be honest with God…I mean He’s holy, right? We have to pray to Him or Her with respect, right? What I’ve discovered is having completely, uneditted conversations with God is the highest form of respect we can show the One who loves us best. God IS truth, and sharing truth together is holy.

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      • More and more, my prayers are evolving into just conversation like I would have with a friend. I remember reading a passage of the bible that has always bothered me and finally holding it up to him and say, “do you see this? I don’t like this. It’s ugly. It doesn’t sound like you. What’s up with this?” His response? “Relax. It wasn’t written to you.” =D

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        • Isn’t it wonderful to have conversations with God, and not just pray AT Him or Her, and never know the wonderful experience of hearing God’s response. God’s response to each of us is so personal, and usually so odd. I love it!

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  • I just finished Philip Yancey’s book called Prayer and it basically says the same thing you are saying. We each have to bring our personality and style to prayer and that there is no formula that works for everyone. It is a very freeing book with lots of encouragement and honesty from Philip. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading Joy’s book.

    Reply
    • thanks, patty. it’s kind of like that “loving God in lots of different ways” idea, too. we just all connect differently & the more we can be released to do that, the healthier, the better. all of the formulas or boxes of “here’s how to do its” really can limit us. freedom is so pretty!

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  • Sometimes we get so turned off by religious people, church and church prayers that we don’t want to talk to God. This sounds like a great book that says we can talk to God about everything. I try to talk to God just like I talk to my wife.

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    • Sam, that’s what I want everyone to know. In a single sentence, my book says, “God wants to have conversations with you, and it’s OK to say anything you want.” I used to look at all the prayers in the Bible, and except for the Lord’s Prayer, I couldn’t imagine praying those other prayers. Why? They weren’t mine. They didn’t sound like me or something I would say. I’m glad you talk with God the way you talk with your wife. It’s very freeing, isn’t it.

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    • i do the same thing, but like i’m talking to jose. safest, most awesome friend ever.

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  • Joy- loving the interview and the comments so far. A question i have is about fear and obedience in relation to uncensored prayer. Kathy wrote a gutwrenching poem about fear a lil bit ago, affecting me even as i write this now. I have wrestled with fear and fearing I have just failed God by letting fear and failing to be obedient. Any thoughts here?? Definitely will check out your blog 🙂

    Kathy- smile and smile smileeeeeeeeee sweet friend!!! 😀

    Reply
    • hey robert, so glad you asked this question and joy responded. one thing i truly believe is that God is not mad at us when we’re afraid or sitting there waiting for us to “obey properly.” i think of it with my kids & with friends-on-the-journey who i really hope can push through fears and do hard things scared. there’s this weird understanding in these moments of our humanness & i think God knows how hard fear is for us. love & acceptance is sometimes the most important message i need to hear from God. that no matter whether i move or try or do anything i’m loved, fully & purely & without condition-on-my-obedience. thanks my friend for sharing and being here.

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  • Robert, I really understand your fear of God because you have failed so much. Fear kept me away from God so many years, because my life was so messed up. I figured He or She was mad at me, and wasn’t helping me because I sinned so much. So why bother praying at all. Finally my pain and anger was so intense I just blew up, cussing and screaming. My pain was bigger than my fear. To my shock, God screamed back at me — not in wrath or judgment, but in love. I hadn’t been able to hear to hear God’s small, still voice.

    The only way you can know for yourself what God is really like is for the two of you to talk together. To hear God takes the willingness to listen. I have learned that God values a personal relationship with us far more than obedience. We’re never going to get the obedience part right here on earth. Robert, I encourage you to tell God exactly what you feel. It’s safe to share about all your fears, guilt, pain, everything. You can’t offend God or run Him/Her off. You can’t take my word for it; you have to try it for yourself. I promise you it’s worth it.

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  • I love this. I’ve found myself caught up on ‘getting things right’; so much so that it is often easier to do nothing, prayer wise. And of course, there’s my suspicion that I’m yelling into the void….

    I must say, I was very happy to discover that the Minister at the church that I attend isn’t totally averse to using the odd ‘F’ word himself (NOT in the sermon though 😉 ). Makes him all the more human to me.

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    • that’s fun. i’m glad you found this freeing. on a side note: unfortunately i have a potty mouth & once in a while it slips out in inappropriate moments–like when lovely conservative friends come to the refuge, already thinking we’re over the edge and then i accidentally forget they are there and let it rip. my cover: sometimes there are certain swear words that are just the right words 🙂

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  • Eva, I haven’t read any of my poem dialogues with God in church that feature the “f” word, but I have done so “when two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” communities of faith. My poems were written in private — my diary. But I put some of those in my book as an example that it’s OK to say anything when talking with God. He/She isn’t offended by honest, since God already knows what we think!

    Reply

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