Praying When It’s Hard: Praying While Wounded

March 28, 2021

Each of us has been conditioned to respond a certain way to wounds—to pain, suffering, disappointment. As a child, you learned that you could go to Mom or Dad with anything—any hurt or question—and be received, comforted, and helped. Or, you learned that you wouldn’t get much sympathy, that you were expected to be tough and not bother people with your problems. Or, you learned that, whatever had happened to you, it was somehow your fault: you should have been more careful, you should have known better, and so on.

In fact, each of us carries around our own theology of suffering. We may not recognize it or call it by that name, but we do hold strong beliefs about suffering and what to do with it. We receive our wounds as some kind of odd justice, paying us back for not being perfect or not understanding everything completely. We carry our hurts as grudges against those who caused them, refusing to let go of them until apologies are made. We believe that everything we experience comes directly from God—never mind all the people around us making their own choices for good or for ill, never mind the created world and its many cycles of calm and violence—so whatever I’ve gone through, God intended it and wants me to learn something.

It is, therefore, not surprising that prayer gets complicated when we’re in pain. Prayer is not a simple request to God for help—we’re unable to do that. We’re carrying too many assumptions, and those assumptions can cut off our prayer before we even form it. 

If I believe that every pain is somehow my own fault, then I bring this vague but strong sense of guilt to my prayer. Before I ask God for help, I must figure out what to confess so that God can now work with me. Or, because I blame other people for my pain, my anger and bitterness block my openness to God. Or, I really think I should just solve my own problems and not bother God unless there’s a major emergency, and so I shy away from prayer because I must find a way to handle this—go to Jesus as a last resort, which, of course, will mean that I’ve failed.

I’m convinced that we struggle to pray when wounded, not because of the pain itself but because of our beliefs about the pain. Those beliefs can block our pathway to free conversation with God.

If you’re in pain and trying to pray about it, consider the following:

God’s love for you transcends all the whys and wherefores—what happened and whose fault it was and how you responded, and so on. Divine Love is most concerned that you turn to God with whatever feelings and experiences you have.

Jesus’ first response to wounded people was to heal them; he didn’t go on about how their misfortune was the logical outcome of their bad choices. He didn’t begin with a lecture but with compassion. Sometimes, he saw that the person needed forgiveness as well as healing, and he would say, “Your sins are forgiven.” But FIRST, he tended the wounds. That is how he looks at you now—someone in need of healing and comfort.

When praying through your pain, simply express to God how you feel about the pain. “Lord, I was too harsh with my son before, and now he’s withdrawn from me. Show me how to ask his forgiveness and demonstrate that I love and welcome him.” “Heavenly Father, I feel so embarrassed that one little remark has sent me into this place of hurt and self-doubt. Have I really matured so little?” “Dear Jesus, I know that I’m in your care, but this illness really scares me. I’m ashamed of my fear, but there it is. Please help me.”

Honest conversation is always the best prayer. So bring to God not only your pain but also the tangled-up thoughts and emotions that nearly always accompany the pain. All of these factors form the wound. And God will patiently deal with the whole.

Photo by Sherise VD on Unsplash.com

Vinita Hampton Wright serves as managing editor of the trade books department of Loyola Press. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015, she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

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