one 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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.