From my backyard I could hear the volume go up with each expletive and each futile tug on the starter rope. My neighbor was reaching the end of his rope but wouldn’t give up trying to revive the expired lawnmower.
I climbed into the backyard kids fort to watch the kicking, screaming, and frustration reach the point of no return. Suddenly, with surprising strength and the wrath of Khan, he picked up the mower and angrily snapped it in two over his knee! “There! That’ll teach you!”
Now it sits out in front of his house, a memorial to his rage,
How many times have you heard those words lately? These are the words shared by many in response to the mass shooting at First Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, TX. We read them tweeted by the president and we repeated by countless others. Many express such sentiment in the aftermath of tragedy.
But what does that mean?
What does that mean coming from the lips of those who rarely attend and have little connection with the church? What does that mean coming from the mouth of someone who may or may not pray all that often? What does that mean when it echoes across social media, TV journalism and political rhetoric?
What does it mean to you?
When a disaster flattens a community, when a tragedy occurs, when numerous lives are taken, how do you pray? What do you say? What words do you use?
I’ll bet you’re intention to pray far exceeds your actual prayers. I know that sounds harsh. But reflect on that statement for a moment. Am I wrong?
What do you say to God when bullets fly, bombs explode, blood is shed and communities are devastated?
Do you ask God to help people feel better? Do you pray for the pastors who will be conducting funerals for all those who died? Do you pray that God would spare people from future tragedy? Do you ask what you should do to help?
What do you say?
It’s a tough question. Prayer is tough, because it deals with tough issues. Prayer is hard, because it rips open our hearts and releases our emotions in the presence of the one who created us. Prayer pleads for mercy, cries out for help, lashes out in anger, and gets in the face of the God who is infinitely more powerful than us.
If your prayers aren’t filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear, then why bother? Why bother simply saying what you think God wants to hear, rather than what’s going on in your heart? Why try to talk God out of a blessing or convince him your are right (and he’s wrong)? Are you afraid you’ll hurt his feelings? Or that he’ll shut you up — for good?
I believe he wants you to let it out. Release your wrath. Scream in terror. Demand that he listen and respond. Read the psalms. What? Yes, read the psalms. They do all this and more. They get in God’s face and challenge him to do something!
And you know what? He does. He comes and experiences it all. Then Jesus went away to pray. Do you think his prayers were calm, cool and collected? In the face of all he would go through? I doubt it. Go back to the gospels and read about Jesus’ prayers from the cross — filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear.
You tell me you’ll pray? Let me hear you pray like Jesus.
Over the past few days, I’ve been talking with someone who’s been surprised by feeling of rage, fear, and sadness because of things going on in someone else’s life. Simply trying to come along side a good friend, be supportive, and walk with them through some really difficult situations, they were overwhelmed with feelings that overflowed from the other person’s life.
In Galatians, the apostle Paul tells us to carry each other’s burdens. In Romans he says we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. These are very reassuring words, because they remind us that we don’t have to carry life’s burdens alone. We have others, specifically our brothers and sisters in Christ, to help us when life gets too heavy.
On the other hand, we will end up with some of weight others have to carry will overflow onto our backs. That’s the hard part. Here we are, minding our own business and trying to be good friends, and suddenly, we’re hurting because of someone else’s pain. We’re crying because of someone else’s tears. And sometimes we’re filled with rage because someone else is suffering an injustice. Is it fair that we have to suffer for someone else’s mistakes?
Ah, you’re getting a taste of what Christ went through for us. Punished for our sins, rejected because of our selfishness, killed because of our unfaithfulness, Jesus knows all about unfair. Maybe we go through some of that so that we know him better. And like Paul also said, there’s nothing like knowing him.