I used to sometimes feel worse after praying, until I learned this
I thought I was taking my fears to God, but something was missing because I was feeling more anxious and afraid after my prayers. Recently, I learned some things that have helped me make sense of that pattern of anxiety while praying, and most importantly, how to change it.
It sounds terrible to say, "I feel worse after praying." Especially, considering this:
God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
- 2 Timothy 1:7
If that's true, then how in the world could anyone feel worse after praying?! For a long time,
I had to find other ways to feel close to God and receive answers, because that is what was happening. I stopped praying for weeks and even months at a time, which made me feel bad. How could God answer a child that didn't speak to Him? I have an answer for that. He is patient and He loves and understands us perfectly. When it comes to our hurts, anxiety and pain, He is merciful.
Facing my fears in EMDR therapy, taught me something about prayer.
When in the thick of hurtful things, we can acknowledge our pain and our fears, but if we do not at the same time acknowledge something greater, it may become too much and swallow us up!
Let me explain that a bit more. In EMDR therapy, you basically "go back" to painful experiences that were never properly resolved, with little assignments. It might be taking someone you think of as a "protector" with you, -- or a "nurturer," etc. The idea is to allow yourself to feel the feelings you didn't allow yourself to feel in the first place. This would be too scary to do alone, so you "bring" someone with greater capacity with you. That idea of focusing on someone with greater capacity, and having them right by your side when confronting fears and problems, has completely changed my prayers.
How I used to pray, was that I'd rattle off a long list of fears, and then anxiously plead for God to fix or prevent whatever I was afraid of. And while acknowledging our feelings is an important part of honesty and healing, it is also where we can get stuck! When my prayers focused on my hurts and anxieties, they were more like fear mantras than prayers.
I read something recently that has helped me understand this even more, but I'll get to that in a second. First, I want to describe how my prayers have changed.
I still pour out my heart to God about the difficulties I'm facing, but then I look to my Savior in every thought thereafter. I think of His attributes, why He is more capable than me.
I think of examples in the scriptures where He cared for people in the middle of their pain -- whether that be illness, sin, or other things. As I think of these things, I can't help but speak of what I know to be true about my Savior. I bear testimony to God about His Son. Of course God already knows all these things, but doing this brings down walls. The fear and anxiety of whatever I am worried about loses its' power. Then my thoughts unlock and specific answers come (sometimes), but mostly what happens is a feeling of peace.
Recently I read this:
"Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ's name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the selfishness of man's heart."
- Bible Dictionary, Prayer (last paragraph)
Okay, I know that sounds harsh, because of the word "selfishness." But isn't it true that we can be self-centered and focused on negative thoughts and feelings? What if we replaced the word "selfishness" with words like fear, anxiety, hurt, anger or jealously? Pick one and try re-reading that same idea:
"Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ's name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the fear of man's heart."
It can be mentally rigorous to turn our thoughts to Christ in the midst of terrible things, but it is more difficult to lay in the waste of earthly problems. Shifting our thoughts to Christ and giving His capacity more weight than our fear, hurt, anger or jealously squashes our propensity for getting stuck. Being secure in the knowledge that our Savior has overcome all things, we fear fewer things. Can you imagine someday being with Him and fearing nothing?
How Jesus Christ's capacity makes ALL the difference: