Praying When It’s Hard: When Tensions and Divisions Disturb My Peace

February 14, 2021

These past months I had many internal struggles as I have watched tensions and divisions rise in many aspects of our lives:  politically, morally, spiritually, and theologically.  My heart aches watching division rise in so many communities, including faith communities, as differing sides state their opinions in what feels like a battle of who can say it louder.  I felt my own frustration as my own beliefs, values, and principles felt challenged.  I spent hundreds of hours listening to others this past year on retreats and in spiritual direction.  Besides the cries of suffering that I heard, I also listened to people struggling with a similar internal unrest I felt at times. 

Tensions and divisions are not always on a large scale either.  I am sure we can all think of moments this past year where we have experienced conflict or opposing viewpoints on a much more personal level.  A disagreement with a family member, work colleague, or close friend can unsettle us, hurt us, and leave us reeling.  

In times when I feel like this, it is hard to pray.  To be honest, I sometimes completely avoid bringing any of it to God.  For the record, I do not recommend this as this does not work out well in the long run.   The longer I keep this aspect of my life and feelings away from God the more restless I get.  Eventually, I realize if I want internal peace I am going to have to simply share what is going on in me with God.  

So, how can we pray when we disagree? 

Take it to prayer.  God is here and ready to listen to us.  God can handle the intense emotions and feelings we might bring into prayer – anger, annoyance, unforgiveness, hurt.   

Name the real. This starts with asking ourselves:  Who am I actually disagreeing with?  Is it another person?  Is it God?  Am I upset at myself?  As hard as it may be to do so, we can be vulnerable with God.  We can bring our full selves to prayer and let our raw emotions and feelings out, even when they may be directed at God.  I might want to talk to God about my sadness or anger.  I might honestly name that I feel frustrated at myself that I am so upset.  There may even be deep sorrow to see violation of strongly held beliefs.  

Check my own listening posture.  Am I in a posture of listening or defending?  Perhaps, I might want to pray for the grace of detachment.  I can even ask God to help me see my own biases and ideas I am attached to.  Naming these can help me to be more free to see and feel, and eventually respond, as Jesus would.  Can my defensive stance be turned to wonder?  Why am I reacting the way I am?  Why might the other person/group be reacting the way they are? 

Notice what is being illuminated about my own core values.  Disagreements often point to values, beliefs and principles we hold dear.  We get upset when these feel violated.  We can ask God for the grace to name what is behind our reactions and how God might be inviting us to honor them. 

Look to Jesus as a model.  It never hurts to turn to the Gospels and pray with stories of Jesus confronting those he did not agree with.  Jesus often took the posture of listening first.  At the same time, he did not compromise his core values and beliefs.  He spoke his truth directly and with love such as with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) or the woman at the well (John 4: 4-42).  Even today’s Gospel (Mark 8:11-13) shows an example of Jesus and the Pharisees in disagreement.  

Listen for what is mine to do.  The quiet and space of prayer allows us to hear God’s invitations for our next steps.  As we pray, we can listen to hear if I am being invited to apologize or seek reconciliation with God or the person with whom I disagreed.  Or maybe I am being asked to work to forgive or let go of the situation.   Sometimes, the disagreements are simply within me as I listen to what others say or think and do not need an apology. I can simply hold and honor  my values with God.  

Pray for those we disagree with.  Our hearts can soften as we pray for those we disagree with and bring them into the loving care of God.  The very love and mercy we have come to know and receive from God is offered to them as well.  Praying for them is a way to keep our safe distance and also keep our hearts from turning completely hardened as well.  

I know it is not easy to pray when our peace is disturbed from divisions and tensions.  I do know that when I finally do acquiesce to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to talk to God about what is upsetting me that I take one step closer to working with God to restore my inner peace.  


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Becky is an Ignatian-trained spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and writer. She is the author of the Busy Lives and Restless Souls (March 2017, Loyola Press) and The Inner Chapel (April 2020, Loyola Press). She helps others create space to connect faith and everyday life through facilitating retreats and days of reflection, through writing, and through spiritual direction. With nearly twenty years of ministry experience within the Catholic Church, Becky seeks to help others discover God at work in the every day moments of people’s lives by utilizing St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and the many gifts that our Catholic faith and Ignatian Spirituality provide.

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