Bitter Women Utter Honest Prayers



Naomi tasted the bitter irony of her name. Her parents had given her a name meaning “pleasantness,” tempting the God of reversals to do his thing.  And he did.  Unlike the patriarch of her people, who was enriched when he left Israel during a famine, Naomi became impoverished. She who bore the name Pleasant bore first her husband, then her son, then her second and last son to the graveyard. So when she returns from her exile, widowed and bereft of her children, she laments to her former neighbors, “Do not call me Pleasant; call me Bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

Christianity can easily be twisted into spiritualized etiquette. You learn how properly to eat at the Lord’s table, how respectfully to address him, how politely to carry on a conversation with him. If you don’t like what he serves, well, tough, clean your plate and ask for seconds. If you don’t feel like shaking his hand, do it anyway and beam at him like there’s no one else you’d rather be meeting. And above all, if his behavior toward you is cold and rude, if he insults you, shrug it off or put the best construction on it, and never, ever tell him exactly what you think of him. In short, such a religion teaches that nothing pleases God more than a fake.

Suffering has a way of stripping off the masks we wear when speaking of God, or to God. Hear Naomi unmasked. “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Or as she says to her daughters-in-law, “The hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.”  There are no fine theological distinctions here between God’s consequent and antecedent will; no attribution of her suffering to Satan, that ever-handy scapegoat; not a hint that her losses are part of the raw reality of life in a fallen world. Naomi feels quite simply that God has ruined her life; and she’s not afraid to say it.

A relationship with God that has no room brutal honesty is no relationship at all. It’s a farcical faith. God is not somehow protected, or honored, when his children give no voice to the pain they experience at his hands. Indeed, the very complaint is itself a confession of faith. For faith does not require that we like what the Lord does. Faith is not his amen pew, Yes Sirring the divine. It is the kind of trust that knows that I can tell my Father how much he’s hurt me, abandoned me, ripped away my deepest loves—and still know he is my Father.

There is more, much more, to the story of Naomi. But we know that; Naomi didn’t. Yes, five years down the road, your friend who buried her husband early this year, has a daughter addicted to crack, and was just diagnosed with breast cancer—in five years she may have happily remarried, seen her daughter’s life turned around, and have a clean bill of health. But she knows none of that now. Now all she knows is a broken heart. Telling her that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him may well be true, but I doubt it is profitable. For now she needs, like Naomi, to speak the truth to the God who can handle it. And in time, he will answer her, as only a Father can.

Perhaps the most honest prayer ever prayed was by a condemned man, who cried out in his death agonies, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” And he was answered, three days later, when he looked over his shoulder at the grave he had just vacated. That suffering man, the atoning Lord who cried out to His Father, cries out still in us and for us and through us to the God who raised him–and us in him–from the dead.


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14 thoughts on “Bitter Women Utter Honest Prayers

  1. jamesbradfordpate on said:

    Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.

  2. Suellen Dehnke on said:

    Thank you Chad.

  3. Karen Janssen on said:

    No one wants to hear our complaints though. If you let pain be known, people don’t know how to respond so they avoid the need to respond by avoiding you entirely – thus adding to the pain.

    • Rev. Gerald Heinecke on said:

      your Pastor wants to hear your pain. He is your pastor not only in your joy but also in your suffering.

    • Very often that does happen, unfortunately. But not always. I’ve had some dear friends who have listened to me pouring out my pain. Such people are indeed a gift. And there are pastors who are skilled listeners, especially those who have endured suffering of their own, and recognize the voice of lament.

      • I believe Job’s friends showed great wisdom and love until they opened their mouths. We could all aspire to be willing to sit and listen, or even in silence for a few hours, much less a few days. I know I need the presence & silence of others when I am grieving.

  4. Chad, thank you for this insight. I’ve always (well, at least in my adult years) been one to take complete responsiblity (i.e., blame) for any and all sufferings I have had. As a result of my thinking, my prayer life has not been where it should be, as I took the attitude: 1) God’s will is perfect, so I pray for God’s will and not of my desires, 2) whatever sufferings I have are a result of my disobedience, and 3) who am I, a miserable sinner, to voice complaints to a perfect, loving God who willingly died on the cross I nailed him to, just so he could pay for my sins?

    Our pastors’ preaching on Job recently touched on suffering unrelated to sin. As good as it was, it didn’t quite hit home like your words did. I still question whether being in the faith gives us the right to voice frustration to him. If God deemed it necessary that I should suffer in order to strengthen my faith, I should rejoice that he found me worthy. I certainly have not suffered to the degree that Job, Naomi, or even you have. The relatively few times I have suffered have served me mostly to give up all of my worries to him, and to remind me of all I have to be thankful for. The “worst” I have expressed to him is, “well, o.k., what am I supposed to learn from this? Please teach me.”

    Please forgive my rambling. If I have jumped the tracks theologically, please let me know.

    • Thank you, Dan, for what you wrote. What formed most of my thinking about this subject is the book of Psalms. As I prayed through them, it struck me over and over how honest they were–honest “to a fault,” we would say. They hold nothing back. If they are hurting, they tell God. If they think they don’t deserve something, they voice that. If they think God is asleep, or not listening, or not answering quickly enough, they make no apologies for saying that, too. And it struck me how different that is from how we are prone to pray, as if we can’t be totally honest with God. That’s why I wrote this piece. If we are speaking to our Father, then let us speak as children.

  5. Judy Thimsen on said:

    True, this. Who else to cry out to with your pain, but God? Who else to scream that you are pissed and have had enough? No one else has time for your brutal honesty. Everyone just calls you bitter and dismisses you.

  6. Leah on said:

    I really needed (and still need) to hear this…our family is going through several difficult issues right now. Thank you for writing it, and thank God for leading me here.

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