Ow! My neck is killing me!”
I stopped in the mad-rush to put away all the laundry and turned to my three-year-old son who had flopped down on the big blue sofa.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him. “What did you say?”
“My neck is killing me!”
I giggled a bit at this 3-year-old-turned-senior-citizen as he rubbed his neck.
Where in the world did he learn that phrase?
Then later, as we climbed into our seats around the dinner table, he gave it a twist: “My head is killing me!”
Apparently, this little old man is just falling apart.
Later in the week, as all the family gathered after the school day, he settled into his seat and sighed out, “It’s been a long day!”
Exactly when did the ninety-year-old move into our house?
My preschooler seems to be an ancient soul trapped in a tiny body complete with aches, pains, and weariness.
But I love listening to him talk. He’s discovering all the ins and outs of language, how words stretch to convey ideas and take on new meaning in different contexts.
Sometimes, when he doesn’t know the right word that will fit the big idea, he just starts describing with every linguistic tool he’s got.
Other times, he’s tossing around slang and colloquialisms like he’s been alive a few decades with a neck that is “killing him” at the end of “a long day.”
I’ve been marveling this week especially because I’ve been feeling the restraints myself, how words aren’t always enough to capture what I want to say when I pray.
We do sometimes make prayer into an oversized beast that we’re far too small to overcome. We make it so complicated, far too complicated, and then so many of us just give up.
Normally what works for me is the simplicity of the prayerful conversation. Just talking to God is the best place to start, and I’m rarely at a loss for words—not in regular conversation and not in prayer.
But we have these seasons where just talking with God is actually difficult.
We don’t always know the “right” words for what we’re going through. Maybe we stumble around a bit.
Maybe telling God how we feel is hard because we don’t even know how we feel!
We’re empty, and that emptiness comes with a certain amount of cold disconnect from emotions or deep thoughts about anything.
Recently, my own prayers for myself have been inarticulate and uncertain.
I can pray for others; that’s the easy part. But what to say to God about me?
I long to tell Him what I want, but also that I trust Him.
And do I even know what I really want anyway?
I pray for His will to be done, but I’m reminded to pray specifically and how specific is too specific?
He tells me I can ask, and yet I don’t want to sound like a whiny, entitled, discontent spoiled brat.
I want to be thankful, but I’m still in need.
How do we balance it all? How do we fit all that we’re feeling and all that we know about God and about prayer and about our circumstances into the sometimes-rigid restrictions of words?
I read what the Psalmist said:
O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you (Psalm 38:9 ESV).
This is the reminder I need—the permission I need—that it’s okay sometimes to be silent before the Lord.
God sees the longing. He hears the sighing. He knows better than we even do ourselves what’s buried in our hearts or tumbled together in one huge messy pile in our minds.
David also said:
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. Psalm 139:2-4 ESV
When words come easy, we use words. We tell God everything. How we love Him so and how worthy He is of praise. How we need forgiveness and how we’re hurting or desperate for rescue.
Prayer draws us to the throne of God. We’re invited in. This is beautiful and good and right and true.
But maybe there are moments when just being in the presence of the Lord, bringing our silence before Him, is more honest and more intimate because we just don’t even know what to say.
So we trust Him to know instead.
We linger in this quiet companionship, not pulling away, not hiding away, not covering up any part of our soul.
Just letting Him search us and know us and yes, even love us through this season until we can start to piece it all into words again.