"Listen while I build my case, God, the most honest prayer you'll ever hear." from Psalm 17:1-9
A seminary intern was offering the pastoral prayers one Sunday and received a request to pray for a woman who had a last name he found very difficult to pronounce. It was a name from a country whose language most of us did not speak, Polish, and it sounded nothing like it was spelled. But in the intimacy of congregational life, we had learned how to pronounce it over the years.
So it was particularly painful to listen to the young man as he prayed out loud and kept stumbling over the name as he tried to get it right. He would make one attempt to say it, stop himself, try to say it another time, then stop again, wincing, and then butcher the name all over again. It was like it would never end.
Finally he let out an exasperated sigh that the whole congregation was relieved to hear, since it meant he would finally stop. Continuing with the prayer, he looked up to the heavens and said, "Oh God, you know what her name is!"
It was an honest prayer. And the honesty was not just in his frustrated comment, but in his sigh to the heavens as well. He was being honest in his emotions in the middle of a prayer, and trusting that God could take care of the details.
Sometimes we pray to God with so much specificity, it sounds like we are lecturing a sloppy subordinate at work about when and where to show up for the key event, complete with last names, details about the hospital room number and the exact diagnosis. When what God really desires is an honest emotion, straight from the heart.
Oh God, you know what her name is. Amen.
Lillian Daniel, author of When "Spiritual But Not Religious" is Not Enough, has a chapter in the new anthology, What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. Follow her on twitter @lillianfdaniel.